2006-07 USC Men's Basketball Preview
July 26, 2006
The Trojans feel they are on the verge of something special in the basketball program with the opening of the spectacular Galen Center, the second season under top-notch head coach Tim Floyd, the return of four starters and the influx of a nationally ranked recruiting class.
As optimistic as the Trojans are now, things could have even better if not for the tragic shooting death of Pac-10 All-Freshman team honorable mention point guard Ryan Francis during the offseason and junior guard Gabe Pruitt having to miss the first semester due to academic issues.
'What appeared to be a step in the right direction, took a big turn for the worse in the offseason with the tragic death of Ryan Francis and the ineligibility of Gabe Pruitt for the first semester,' said Floyd. 'Our backcourt was a strength a year ago, and the frontline more of a weakness due to experience. Now our frontline returns in tact and our backcourt is gone.'
However, the USC team is poised to move ahead and built upon last season's 17-13 record, which included three wins over top-25 RPI teams (UCLA, North Carolina and Arizona). The Trojans were just one of 27 teams that could lay claim to having three or more wins against teams that finished the regular season ranked in the RPI top 25.
The 17 wins were the most USC had in a season since going 22-10 in 2002 and they strung together a nine-game winning streak which was also their best since that season. The Trojans went 8-10 in the Pac-10 and finished in sixth place, after finishing in 10th place the previous season. With similar improvement this season, the Trojans could be poised for their first postseason appearance since the 2001-02 season.
In just one season at the helm of the USC basketball program, head coach Floyd injected enthusiasm, a winning attitude and a dedication to defense. For much of the season, the Trojans ranked as one of the most improved teams in the country in points allowed. The Trojans strung together an 11-game streak of holding the opposition under 70 points, which was the school's longest since the 1959-60 season.
The Trojans are returning their top three scorers from a season ago in All-Pac-10 juniors Nick Young (17.3 ppg) and Gabe Pruitt (16.9 ppg) and senior Lodrick Stewart (12.3 ppg). All three players rank among the Pac-10's top 10 returning scorers. In fact, Young (6-6, 195) is the conference's leading returning scorer, Pruitt (6-4, 170) the second-leading scorer and Stewart (6-4, 210) the leading active career point scorer in the Pac-10. Pruitt (111) and Stewart (109) rank first and second among returning Pac-10 players in career steals, so the Trojans will have a solid nucleus of talent and experience to mix with this year's incoming freshman class.
In addition to trio of Young, Pruitt and Stewart, the Trojans return a solid core of athletes that contributed a great deal last season. Senior starting center Abdoulaye N'diaye (6-11, 230) can be a force in the middle, blocking 47 shots in his first season with the Trojans and finishing with 4.5 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. He is a very agile, athletic big man that should improve tremendously with a year of Division I experience under his belt.
Sophomore RouSean Cromwell (6-10, 215) is expected back at full strength this season. He gave Trojan fans a glimpse of his potential in last year's opener, when he came off the bench and scored 17 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. He averaged 4.7 points and 5.3 rebounds before suffering a fractured foot in pre-game warm-ups on Dec. 23, but returned at the end of the season for five games and finished averaging 4.2 points and 4.5 rebounds in 15 games.
Another Trojan big man gaining valuable experience last season as a freshman was Keith Wilkinson (6-9, 215). The sophomore appeared in 19 games and averaged 1.1 points and 1.4 rebounds, while showing the ability to stretch defenses with his outside shot and work well within the system, committing just four turnovers in 165 minutes of playing time.
Sophomore Jeremy Barr (6-8, 265) appeared in 23 games, including three starts, for USC as a true freshman. He averaged 3.1 points and 1.5 rebounds per game. It was just his fourth season of organized basketball for Barr and he showed flashes of the talent that more experience may bring out of him.
Adding to the Trojan depth up front is senior Reed Doucette. The 6-6 forward appeared in four games in his third season in the program.
The other returning guards are sophomore Sead Odzic (6-3, 180), senior Chris Penrose (6-0, 165) and sophomore Terence Green (5-10, 173). Odzic was fourth on USC in three-pointers made with 22 and averaged 3.2 points and 1.2 rebounds in 30 games, including five starts.
Penrose enters his fourth season on the Trojan basketball team. He appeared in three games last season and averaged just under a point and rebound a game. Green transferred to USC after beginning his college career at Irvine Valley College.
The Trojans bring in five freshman this season that have a chance to help right away. At the guard position, USC will lean on Kevin Galloway and Dwight Lewis.
Galloway (6-7, 215) is a versatile big guard who led his Sacramento H.S. team to a 29-6 record. He led his team during the regular season with a 17.4 point per game average, as well as leading the team in rebounds (272), blocks (93) and assists (179).
'When Kevin was signed, he was 6-5 and had played the point guard position some, but has since grown 2 to 2 ½ inches and the question now is if he has out-grown that position,' said Floyd. 'He could be utilized at either guard position or the small forward spot.'
Lewis (6-5, 190) prepped at James Taylor High in Katy, Tex. and earned All-Region selection as he averaged 21 points per game and his team went 17-10. He was ranked as the 44th best high school shooting guard in the country by RivalsHoops.
Adding to the Trojans inside depth will be freshman Taj Gibson, Kasey Cunningham and Kyle Austin. Gibson is ranked as the seventh-best power forward in the 2006 class and 32nd player overall by RivalsHoops. The 6-9 forward played last year at Calvary Christian High in San Fernando, Calif. and helped lead his team to the consolation championship at the Prep Stars of North America tournament held in London, Canada in an abbreviated season for the school. As a sophomore and junior at Stoneridge Prep in Tarzana, Calif., Gibson averaged 20 points, 12 rebounds and seven blocks per game.
'Taj is a guy who could sorely fill our needs at rebounding,' said Floyd. 'He has outstanding rebounding and scoring instincts, and is a terrific back-to-the-basket scorer, something we didn't have before.'
Cunningham is a 6-7 forward from Cibola High in Albuquerque, N.M. His team went 21-7 and finished the season ranked sixth in the state of New Mexico. Cunningham averaged 22 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks and led Cibola to a 13-1 record before suffering a season-ending knee injury.
Austin led his Pasadena High (CA) team to a 25-4 record his senior season, averaging 21 points and eight rebounds a game. The 6-7 forward was the Star News Player of the Year and was a Long Beach Press Telegram 2006 Best in the West third-team selection.
'With the abilities of our recruiting class, we could be a team that rebounds well and scores a lot better on the block than a year ago,' said Floyd. 'We may take a slight step backwards at the start of the season due to the unfortunate loss of our backcourt since the end of last season, but I like the flexibility of this team.'
The Trojans made great strides last season in Floyd's first season at the helm and things seem to be in place to take the program to the next level. In addition to that, USC will begin play in one of the finest basketball venues in the country which should all add up to the 2006-07 season being one of the most exciting in recent years for Trojan fans.