Anthony on LA: USC basketball is in its most important offseason
Now that March Madness is over, it’s naturally time to focus on football.
Spring is a fun time to evaluate schools and their progression for the upcoming season. USC definitely has a lot of buzz around it with new Head Coach Lincoln Riley. Like I said, we should naturally be talking about how Riley’s been adjusting to life in Hollywood.
I don’t want to though. It’s my column, hence the uncreative name “Anthony on LA” As you can tell from the headline of this column, I decided to, in fact, not focus on football.
The headlines about Riley and sophomore quarterback Caleb Williams will run across publications in the next eight months. Their time is next by the time you finish reading this column.
As always, I’ll shine a light on that basketball team that lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. I was wrong about them, which we discussed in an earlier January column.
It was a classic Trojans loss — turnovers plus missed free throws with a sprinkle of scoring droughts to top it off. How this continues to happen is the topic of another column (Hint: There’s a consistent piece in it all).
The loss, though, turns the tide to the most important offseason of Head Coach Andy Enfield’s tenure.
He’s rebuilt this program into college basketball relevancy. He’s revamped this program into a consistent conference contender. He’s retooled this program into a staple of the AP Top 25 rankings.
Most importantly, Enfield has brought a name to a program that was, for the most part, nameless before him. Outside of some strong years in the late 2000s, USC basketball was hit or miss. Enfield’s made it more swish than brick.
But now, the bar is set.
If the Trojans don’t make the tournament each year Enfield is here, then the season should be deemed a failure. It’s as simple as that. If Enfield continues to stick up for the program by boasting their win total, the expectations surrounding them have to rise.
Athletic Director Mike Bohn and the Athletic Department are clearly more invested in the Trojans too. It became clear when last month Enfield received an extension until the 2027-28 season.
With two consecutive appearances in March Madness, Enfield can start a tradition with another run next season. He’s never made three straight trips to March Madness as a head coach, and if he wants the Trojans to earn respect across college basketball, doing so will help his case.
The foundation is there. Two strong seasons are great to work off of. However, that formula will be put to the test this offseason.
It’s simply the highest pressurized offseason of his career.
Enfield had his chance to squeeze some love toward the program during the Clay Helton football era. He definitely did that with student section attendance records breaking twice this season.
However, more eyes put more pressure on USC to live up to that. Fans are no longer satisfied with merely competing in the conference — they want March Madness runs, and consistent ones at that.
It will be difficult to replicate that next year, forcing Enfield into his toughest coaching job yet. Familiar names will be gone from the Trojans rotation next season.
Junior guard Ethan Anderson and junior forward Max Agbonkpolo entered the transfer portal days after losing to Miami. Both were staples of Enfield’s rotation the previous two seasons. Anderson specifically had a role throughout his USC career, averaging at least 20 minutes per game all three years.
Most importantly though, Anderson and Agbonkpolo are junior forward Isaiah Mobley’s closest friends on the team. Anderson even lives with Mobley. If those two are gone, it almost guarantees that Mobley is entering the NBA Draft, ending his Trojan tenure.
Enfield will have to find a replacement for Mobley’s immense production this season — he led the Trojans in points, rebounds and blocks per game while tying for the highest assists and steals per game. Each year Enfield had a Mobley on his team, USC won 20-plus games too.
Maybe I’m going too far with that previous stat, but it’s obvious: Losing Mobley is a huge hit, especially since front-court players Chevez Goodwin and Isaiah White have used up their eligibility.
Sophomore Boubacar Coulibaly also entered the transfer portal, leaving the Trojans with three returning forwards — freshman Harrison Hornery, freshman Kobe Johnson and redshirt sophomore Joshua Morgan.
It is far from ideal, but senior guard Drew Peterson and junior guard Boogie Ellis returning is huge. A 2022 recruiting class ranked sixth in the nation that includes center Vince Iwuchukwu and Sierra Canyon forward Kijani Wright is massive. Enfield’s recruiting in recent years is exceptional.
The rest of the roster, however, is still up in the air. A backup guard needs to be figured out. Someone has to step up as the star with Mobley gone. The transfer portal is always an option for Enfield to go fishing in.
But one thing is clear — Enfield’s got the tools he needs. He’s got support from the campus. He’s got Bohn behind him. And he’s got the nation shining a light on the program.
Now the pressure’s on. Luckily for Enfield and the program, we’ll check back in November. Thank Lincoln Riley.
Anthony Gharib is a junior writing about all things Los Angeles sports. His column, “Anthony on LA,” typically runs every other Monday. He is also the sports editor.