O’Neill not to blame for down season

The USC men’s basketball snapped a nine-game losing streak Saturday after defeating the Utah Utes at the Galen Center.

The victory was long overdue as the Trojans were, at the time, winless in Pac-12 conference play and in 2012.

Many have questioned why the men’s basketball team has recently declined.

This season, the Trojans have seen many woes, all of which seem hard to believe considering they received an invitation to the big dance — the NCAA tournament — last season. USC lost to Virginia Commonwealth University in the opening round of the tournament.

The Trojans’ string of bad luck did not end there.

Forward Nikola Vucevic opted for the 2011 NBA draft following the failed NCAA tournament attempt.

During his career at USC, Vucevic averaged 11.1 points and eight rebounds per game. Vucevic wasn’t the only key departure from the USC roster. The 6-foot-10 forward Alex Stepheson, who was considered one of the top defenders in the conference, graduated in spring 2011.

With two influential players no longer on the roster, the Trojans, led by coach Kevin O’Neill, were determined to regain respect in the Pac-12 conference.

In August 2011, during an exhibition tournament in Brazil, USC suffered its most devastating setback.

Senior guard Jio Fontan suffered a season-ending injury, tearing his anterior cruciate ligament.

With Fontan injured, the Trojans have depended on sophomore guard Maurice Jones, who, at only 5 foot 7, has played nearly every minute of the season for USC. Even O’Neill stated in a press conference following Fontan’s injury that fans should not attend games if Maurice Jones is not playing.

While playing against Colorado on Thursday night, redshirt sophomore forward Dewayne Dedmon tore his medial collateral ligament, sidelining him for the remainder of the season. Dedmon has been battling numerous injuries throughout the 2011-12 season. Despite losing the 7 footer, the Trojans won their first conference game of the season on Saturday with only six scholarship players.

It has been quite easy to point the finger at O’Neill and to discuss the proverbial hot seat.

Many forget, however, that O’Neill inherited the aftermath of previous coach Tim Floyd.

O’Neill, named head coach in mid-2009, was unable to compete in postseason play after USC self-imposed sanctions for NCAA rule violations committed by former player O.J. Mayo.

The sanctions also included a reduction in scholarships.

The Trojans were without an incentive to compete for the 2010 NCAA tournament but still managed to finish in the middle of the pack.

With other players stepping up to the high expectations of USC athletics, the Trojans seemed to regain their swagger in 2010-11.

Now in 2012, Trojan students and fans are debating whether or not O’Neill should return for one more year.

In reality, the situation that O’Neill inherited was not the best — sanctions and injuries along with young and inexperienced players.

It is in the best interest of the team and all Trojan fans to give O’Neill another year to potentially lead the Trojans to a conference championship and March Madness bid in 2013.

USC has faced much adversity and pure bad luck.

Next year, the Trojans will have a healthy Fontan, redshirt junior forward Aaron Fuller and Dedmon, in addition to a more experienced roster.

Without a doubt, O’Neill deserves one more year.


“Armchair Quarterback” runs Tuesdays. If you would like to comment on this story, please visit dailytrojan.com or email Andie at ahageman@usc.edu


2 replies
  1. Steve B.
    Steve B. says:

    No he doesn’t deserve another year unless a somewhat divine intervention happens and the team wins a few
    more games to finish the season. The win against the worst team in the Pac-12 playing at home proves absolutely nothing. The excuses are being over-played to exhaustion. This is his fifth stop at a division 1 university with an
    overall losing record. Time for the athletic dept. to step up and get the basketball program to be one year in and
    year out.

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