Season of Change: USC speed?

October, 28, 2013
10/28/13
10:00
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Now that you know what you need to watch in every conference in the country, we turn our attention to the theme of change -- from coaching changes to player development to good old-fashioned rules. First up: How quickly can USC get quick?

Ground was broken for the Galen Center, USC's first on-campus basketball arena, in October 2004. A month later, USC hired former Utah coach Rick Majerus. The implication then was clear: After 100 years spent as an afterthought, and half a century in an old municipal gym, a new day had come.

Nine years later, the venue is the only thing about USC basketball that has changed.

[+] EnlargeAndy Enfield
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesCan Andy Enfield turn around USC?

Whether former Florida Gulf Coast coach and human meme Andy Enfield can finally change this trajectory is an open question that won't be answered in one season. (For more on Enfield's long-term task, see Dana O'Neil's piece today.) More pressing for our purposes, though, is what Enfield will change right now -- whether he can shape his current players in the image of the thrilling run-and-dunk FGCU team that got him to L.A. this spring.

This looks, at first glance, like an immensely difficult thing to do. In 2009-10, 2010-11 and 2011-12, Kevin O'Neill's USC teams were among the slowest and most risk-averse in the country. They ranked outside the top 300 in adjusted tempo each season. They played truly tough, physical defense and truly putrid, inept offense. The end result was unwatchable.

Enfield won't want his teams to be unwatachable even if said unwatchability was effective. In Year 1 of a rebuild, it's the nightmare scenario. But here's the good news: These Trojans might not be -- or need not be -- as speed-challenged as you think.

Even before O'Neill was fired in mid-January of last season, he was letting USC get up and down the floor in totally uncharacteristic ways; when associate head coach Bob Cantu took over, the Trojans didn't slow. The end result was an adjusted tempo of 67.5 possessions per game -- a drastic increase from 2011-12 (61.4). Meanwhile, FGCU wasn't always blitzing people at breakneck speed: The Eagles averaged 69.1 possessions per game, 42nd most in the country. The easy storyline -- a run-and-gun coach taking over a roster of players used to 55-trip grinders -- isn't as drastic as you might think.

What's more, USC's best returning players, guards J.T. Terrell and Byron Wesley, are comfortable at pace. Per Synergy scouting data, the Trojans ended 15.3 percent of their offensive possessions in transition -- second most of any play type. Of those 365 plays, Terrell and Wesley combined to run on 186 of them. As a duo, they averaged around a point per trip.

This is easily Enfield's best hope of getting the Trojans to at least be entertaining in Year 1. Neither Terrell nor Wesley set the world ablaze on the break last season, but they were better in that context than any other, and this season they will be running not as a matter of disorganization but with an entire philosophy at their backs.

Enfield has plenty of changes to make at the Galen Center. Some are overhauls. Others are tweaks. Believe it or not, the Trojans' transition might be closer to the latter than the former.


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