USC reloads and takes aim at 2nd straight NCAA tourney berth
LOS ANGELES (AP) It's more about reloading than rebuilding at Southern California. The Trojans reached the NCAA Tournament last season after winning just five Pac-12 games the previous two years under coach Andy Enfield.
They have some holes to fill this season after their second- and third-leading scorers left school early only to be undrafted and four other players transferred after going 21-13 and losing to Providence by one point in the opening round of the NCAAs.
But the starting five should more than pick up the slack, along with some transfers and four freshmen.
The Trojans were picked to finish seventh by the media in the Pac-12. They had just two league victories in Enfield's first season, three in 2015 and nine last season, when they went .500 in league play.
''We lost a couple top players to the NBA draft early,'' Enfield said, ''but the nice thing for our program is we had some returnees that were talented and we still think we can compete.''
The Trojans were the second-highest scoring team (80.5 points per game) last season and could bump it up this season.
USC will be seeking a return trip to the NCAA Tournament and its first victory there since 2009.
They open the season against Montana on Nov. 11 at Galen Center, where they play five of their first six. Their non-conference schedule includes visiting Texas A&M on Nov. 18, hosting SMU on Nov. 25 and playing BYU at Staples Center on Dec. 3.
Some things to watch for this season with USC:
FRONTCOURT: It appears to be the biggest question mark, with sophomores Chimezie Metu (6-11) and Bennie Boatwright (6-10) the only returnees over 6-5. Metu averaged 6.4 points and 3.6 rebounds in 18.5 minutes as a freshman last season; Boatwright averaged 11.5 points and 24.4 minutes. Boatwright tied for the team lead with 60 3-pointers. Metu added 15 pounds over the summer.
ADDITIONS: The Trojans' perimeter-oriented lineup adds three guards: Louisville transfer Shaqquan Aaron and freshmen Jonah Mathews and De'Anthony Melton. Aaron is eligible after sitting out last season and will be eager to show what he can do. Mathews can shoot from long range and drive to the basket. Melton brings a defensive mindset. Forward Charles Buggs, a graduate transfer from Minnesota, will be eligible immediately. Forwards Harrison Henderson and Nick Rakocevic are 6-10 freshmen. Henderson could be a project whose skills need developing. Rakocevic, along with Buggs, could help replace Nikola Jovanovic, who averaged 12.1 points and 7.0 rebounds before leaving early.
BACKCOURT: Third-leading scorer Julian Jacobs (11.6 points, 4.9 rebounds and 5.5. assists) opted to leave early for the NBA draft. His absence turns the point guard reins over to Jordan McLaughlin, who led the Trojans in scoring with 13.4 points per game and shot 42 percent from 3-point range last season. After enduring shoulder injuries his first two seasons, the junior is healthy.
REBOUNDING: Aaron figures to join junior Elijah Stewart and McLaughlin in the three-guard lineup. Stewart shot 43 percent from long-range last season and came up big with 27 points against Arizona before tailing off in five of the final six regular season games. Stewart and Aaron will be counted on heavily to rebound because of the Trojans' lack of size. ''Our offense is kind of a run-and-gun 3-point offense,'' Stewart said.
STAY HEALTHY: The Trojans will need to stay healthy because they're short on depth after Darion Clark, Katin Reinhardt, Malik Martin and Malik Marquetti all transferred. Reinhard averaged 11.4 points last season.