Tough non-conference schedule begins for USC
After Friday‚Äôs season opener against Coppin State, USC men‚Äôs basketball coach Kevin O‚ÄôNeill was asked about the play of backup center Omar Oraby, who had racked up 16 points and six rebounds in only 14 minutes on the court.
‚ÄúHe‚Äôs a great teammate, he moves the ball, he‚Äôs a great passer, he‚Äôs a shot blocker,‚ÄĚ O‚ÄôNeill said before looking down at the box score in front of him. ‚ÄúFourteen minutes and 16 points. Man, I gotta start playing this guy more often.‚ÄĚ
Oraby, who was just approved to play for the Trojans last Thursday after transferring from Rice, is just one piece of USC‚Äôs talented frontcourt. Even after his breakout performance, Oraby will still begin Tuesday‚Äôs home game against Long Beach State on the bench because of similarly strong showings from starters Dewayne Dedmon and Eric Wise.
Dedmon, a junior, collected a career-high 12 rebounds to lead all players and Wise, a senior, got the ball rolling for USC by scoring the first four points of the game on his way to totaling seven points, three rebounds and two assists.
The Trojans were never truly threatened by Coppin State, but the team was nevertheless relieved to win their first game and end a 10-game skid that dated back to last season. Now, they say they‚Äôre hungry for more.
‚ÄúIt felt good to start the year off well and get a win under our belts,‚ÄĚ sophomore guard Byron Wesley said. ‚ÄúNow we‚Äôre just looking forward to Tuesday.‚ÄĚ
On Tuesday, USC plays its first opponent that made it to the NCAA tournament last season in the 49ers, who finished 25-9 and were crowned the Big West Conference champions.
Long Beach State was seeded No. 12 in the West Regional last March and lost to fifth-seeded New Mexico 75-68 in the Round of 64.
The 49ers are slated as the preseason favorite to repeat in the Big West despite returning only one starter, forward John Ennis, who averaged 10.1 points and 3.8 rebounds last year.
‚ÄúThey‚Äôve won [20 or more] games over the past couple years now,‚ÄĚ O‚ÄôNeill said. ‚ÄúThey‚Äôre a very good, well-coached team.‚ÄĚ
Long Beach State defeated Division II North Alabama 75-65 in its season opener, with Ennis scoring a game-high 19 points. The team did, however, commit 26 turnovers.
Like the Trojans, the 49ers are expected to lean heavily on transfers this season, with new faces coming in from West Virginia, Arizona State, DePaul and Loyola Maramount. However, only West Virginia transfer Dan Jennings has been cleared to play for Long Beach State thus far.
USC will have a distinct size advantage over the 49ers ‚ÄĒ Long Beach State‚Äôs two frontcourt starters are 6-foot-7 and 6-foot-9, while USC boasts Dedmon, Oraby and senior center James Blasczyk, who are all at least 7 feet tall.
USC‚Äôs game against the 49ers marks the beginning of a nonconference gauntlet. Next week, the Trojans play Illinois in the first round of the Maui Invitational. Depending on the result of that showdown, USC could play against Texas, UNC, Marquette, Butler or Mississippi State in the following rounds.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs going to be really difficult,‚ÄĚ O‚ÄôNeill said. ‚ÄúI think we‚Äôre playing the best nonconference schedule in the country.‚ÄĚ
The Trojans tip off against the 49ers Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at the Galen Center.