As it seems to every year, March Madness took the absurdity to an even higher level. Last year’s first weekend of hard-fought battles and buzzer-beaters was trumped by double-digit comebacks in less than 60 seconds and tip-ins and bank shots galore. USC had the privilege of joining in on the madness this season, facing off against Providence in a closely contested game that the Trojans unfortunately lost at the buzzer.
USC had countless opportunities to put the game away, but its youth and inexperience took over and cost them a matchup with the North Carolina Tar Heels in the second round. That’s the beauty and agony of March, all rolled into one game. USC’s season seemingly ended at least one game prematurely, but hopefully it gives them the drive to make the necessary improvements in the offseason that will propel them beyond the first round next year.
The Trojan team surprised everyone this season by even making it into the tournament, showing up a few years ahead of schedule. They were young and fast and flashed glimpses of immense potential throughout the season. Unfortunately, those glimpses were far too infrequent against Providence.
However, if the rest of March has demonstrated anything, it is that the way to build a contender in college basketball is not through the one-and-done process. Unless your coach is named Krzyzewski or Calipari, your program is generally better off avoiding these short-lived prospects and developing highly talented recruits into multi-year contributors.
That seems to be the model that USC is working on, even in the face of a few transfers that might hurt depth, and it’s the best way to build a perennial contender. One only has to look across town to see the detrimental effects of building a program around highly touted, but transient, recruits.
UCLA has lost two talented freshmen to the draft the last two years, leaving their current talent base diminished and overly reliant on Bryce Alford. While they were able to recruit other elite prospects, like Jonah Bolden, for the most part their hopes were pinned on Zach LaVine and Kevon Looney.
In contrast, USC has retained all of its significant talent, developing players like junior guard Julian Jacobs and sophomore guard Jordan McLaughlin into stalwarts, who both still have eligibility left to further contribute to the Trojan program. Now, if freshman forwards Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu both return for their sophomore years — which would be the prudent decision to make — they will be able to further bolster their skill sets as well.
This is the model for a successful program. Oklahoma, Villanova, North Carolina, and Virginia are all well-coached teams that have a strong depth chart and veteran leadership. That is what USC should aspire to be like. They are well on their way, and with another talented recruiting class coming in, head coach Andy Enfield can solidify the system and help USC leap to the elite tier of the Pac-12.
The Trojans need to smooth out their rough edges. They need to improve on defense, particularly in the interior. A full offseason regimen of training and eating at the college level will surely help Metu pack on the requisite weight necessary to be a dominant anchor for an entire season. Working on flexibility and leg strength will help Boatwright be more physical on the low block, complementing his excellent perimeter game and sending his draft stock soaring even higher.
The Trojans will be aided by the addition of two talented guards in De’Anthony Melton and Jonah Mathews, in addition to the transfer of former Louisville guard Shaqquan Aaron. The perimeter will continue to be a source of strength for USC, with these additions and the return of most of their core intact.
It is the paint where experience and improvement will help the Trojans the most. The Trojans are buoyed by the commitment of 6-foot-10 forward Harrison Henderson, but he is still very thin and needs to bulk up to make a season-long impact in the Pac-12. The hopes of a vastly improved 2016-2017 basketball program will rest on the shoulders of the returning post players.
That is how programs like Oklahoma and Villanova have steadily improved each year, and hopefully the Trojans can follow suit. They have the facilities, the resources and now finally, the players to make it happen. This March was insane, but next year’s will be even wilder if the Trojans have the interior presence to make it into April.
Jake Davidson is a junior majoring in accounting. His column, “Davidson’s Direction,” runs Mondays.