The men’s basketball team, coming off a 26-10 season in 2016, earned a spot at No. 10 in the AP preseason poll released early Wednesday morning. The Trojans’ spot at No. 10 marked the program’s highest preseason ranking since the 1974-75 season.
By earning 995 points in the poll, USC sits just 52 points below 2017 national champion No. 9 North Carolina and 511 points below third-ranked Pac-12 frontrunner Arizona. Crosstown rival UCLA earned 340 points, good for No. 21 and the third-highest ranking in a conference that lost a lot of talent this past offseason with Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, Lauri Markkanen, Kyle Kuzma and Ivan Rabb declaring for the NBA Draft.
USC’s No. 10 ranking comes after the Trojans’ deep run in the 2017 NCAA tournament as well as a loaded roster that returns all five starters. Along with a former five-star recruit in sophomore transfer Derryck Thornton, head coach Andy Enfield also welcomes freshman newcomers Jordan Usher, Charles O’Bannon, Jr. and Victor Uyaelunmo to a squad with an already deep bench.
Considering USC didn’t receive any votes in last year’s AP preseason poll, this high ranking is yet another milestone in Enfield’s career, which has not only featured USC’s first postseason appearance since 2011 but also the program’s first NCAA tournament win since 2009.
Though this is the first time in decades that USC has been ranked this high in the preseason, in Week 8 of last year’s AP poll, the undefeated 13-0 Trojans earned a No. 22 rankings before slipping out of the poll for the rest of the year. A knee injury to star forward Bennie Boatwright was a large reason for the drop, keeping the then-sophomore forward out of key Pac-12 games.
With Boatwright and the rest of these starters healthy for the beginning of the season, the Trojans look to stay high in the top 25 throughout the season. USC opens its season against Cal State Fullerton on Nov. 10, and the team’s first test against a ranked opponent comes Thanksgiving weekend in a home tilt with No. 25 Texas A&M (Nov. 26) — a team that the Trojans went on the road to beat by 2 points last season after being down 7 with less than four minutes remaining in the game.
Two other non-conference battles with SMU (Dec. 2) and Oklahoma (Dec. 8) could have major poll implications considering both opponents earned points in the preseason poll. But before USC can think about its post-Oklahoma ranking, the squad must first overcome unranked Big West foe Cal State Fullerton at its home opener, which tips off at 7 p.m. next Friday.