The USC men’s basketball team has enjoyed a fairly exciting run over the last five years.
Outside of the 2009-2010 season, in which the team faced postseason ineligibility, the Trojans have managed to muscle their way to a berth in the NCAA tournament every season — and a spot in the Pac-10 title game three times — since 2006. During that stretch, USC netted a Pac-10 title and a Sweet Sixteen appearance.
These achievements top off seasons in which USC did unseen things. The Trojans knocked off seven ranked teams in the 2006-2007 season, beat a top-five team on the road in 2008 and swept UCLA in 2009-2010.
When one considers these five years of relative success, coupled with a re-tuned athletic department and a shimmering arena to play in, it is only logical to expect another year of high-caliber play. Unfortunately, those who’ve filed into the Galen Center this season know this is not the case.
The Trojans sit firmly in the cellar of the Pac-12, at 5-14, with zero conference wins. The team’s usually solid defensive play has not been able to make up for its offensive ineptitude, which has reached a new low this season. USC ranks 339th out of 344 in assists per game nationally — one of the team’s better offensive statistics. The team’s points per game and rebounds per game clock in at a dreadful 341st and 342nd in the country. These stats put them ahead of only a handful of teams in Division I-A, one of which is Towson University, a school that has lost 35 straight games.
Obviously there are a number of excuses for USC, which has dealt with its fair share of setbacks prior to this season. It was bad enough the NBA draft claimed star forward Nikola Vucevic before his senior season, but when junior guard and team leader Jio Fontan tore his anterior cruciate ligament in March, the Trojans faced a serious personnel predicament. Alongside sophomore guard Maurice Jones, much of the burden fell on newcomer forward Dewayne Dedmon, who was forced out in November because of a stress fracture in his foot.
But injuries in collegiate athletics are to be expected, and the necessary precautions should be in place to prevent the loss of a player, which can translate into the loss of a season. This would be the case at any school, let alone a university that is trying desperately to change fans’ perception of its basketball program as a whole.
As evidenced by recent events, these precautions seem to be missing.
The conundrum the Trojans find themselves in has the potential to be incredibly damaging, beyond the currently dismal season that is being written into the history books.
The past success of the team proved that USC, traditionally a football school, could win basketball games on a national stage. But one season of re-building, if it continues along the current downward spiral, can be just as persuasive in telling future recruits the Trojans don’t have the staying power other major universities have. Without this vote of confidence, the work this team has done over the past half-decade will be forgotten.
Though the current team might not deserve this burden, it remains. USC has the infrastructure and the fan support to continue to rise, so there is little reason to allow a potential 25-loss season to mar the other work it has done. Unlike Texas, Florida and UCLA, there’s no guarantee a couple rebuilding seasons can lead to national contention a year or two down the road, which makes it more vital than ever to perform now.
All obstacles considered, it won’t be easy for the Trojans to salvage this season and to turn in a respectable second-half. But if there were ever a driving-motivation to do so, that reason exists now.
The future of the program is counting on it.
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