Trojans open season with pair of weekend home games
Brian Chin | Daily TrojanSophomore forward Bennie Boatwright and the men’s basketball team host Montana on Friday night in their season opener.The Men of Troy tip-off their 2016-2017 campaign at 8 p.m. Friday against the Montana Grizzlies at the Galen Center.Last year, the Trojans set a school record with 16 wins at home — including 15 home wins in a row — to start the year. This year’s young team seeks to begin the streak anew and set the tone for a another overachieving season.While USC cracked the AP Top 25 on multiple occasions last season, the Trojans lost eight of their last 11 games and ultimately finished 9-9 in Pac-12 play. 2016 was still a highly successful year for the team that was projected to finish tenth in the conference.This year’s squad is projected to finish seventh in the Pac-12 with another 9-9 record. However, no metric can gauge the preparedness of USC’s four talented freshmen recruits and two highly-touted transfers. The USA Today Coaches’ Poll ranks USC 39th, but Ken Pomeroy’s notorious “Pomeroy” metric has USC at 59th.“We’re not ranked. We’re not one of the best teams in the nation,” junior guard Jordan McLaughlin said. “We just need to do our work early and make sure we’re prepared down the road. We just need to keep getting better every single day.”At practice, the team seemed loose and ready to compete. Head coach Andy Enfield said he looks forward to measuring his team against another school after having numerous intrasquad scrimmages this preseason.“It will be exciting for our four freshman and two transfers who have never played for us before,” Enfield said. “We’re looking for our four returners to carry the load early and then the other players have to produce for us to be able to compete.”Enfield and his team have spent the week preparing for their first opponent — a Montana team that won 21 games last year. Though the Grizzlies lost their premier scorer, Martin Breunig (18.9 PPG), redshirt sophomore Oregon transfer Ahmaad Rorie is now eligible to compete. The 6’1” guard scored 27 points in the team’s final exhibition game last week. Guarding him will likely be a team effort, spearheaded by McLaughlin.Additionally, the Grizzlies return two high volume three-point shooters — guard Bobby Moorehead and forward Jack Lopez.“Their forwards play like guards,” Enfield said. “They’ll spread you out and try to shoot a lot of threes. We have to be able to guard the three-point line against this team. They’re excellent shooters.”While USC’s bread and butter also comes from high volume three-point shooting, the Trojans have a phenomenal size advantage over the Grizzlies. No one on the Montana roster is listed above 6’8”, while USC has four players taller than 6’9”. Of those, only sophomore forward Chimeze Metu played significant minutes in the post last season. Sophomore forward Bennie Boatwright, the other contributing returner, prefered to play outside as a stretch-four. No doubt, Friday night’s game will be a benchmark of his developing post game and rebounding ability. Against an undersized Montana team, the other three USC big men — redshirt senior, Charles Buggs, and freshmen, Nick Rakocevic and Harrison Henderson — could have thrilling debuts.Following their game against Montana, the Trojans tip-off against the Omaha Mavericks on Sunday at 4 p.m. Projected to finish fourth in the Summit League, Omaha is anchored by upperclassmen leadership. Senior guard Tra-Deon Hollins and junior forward Tre’Shawn Thurman earned preseason All-Summit honors.Hollins can do it all. Last season, the junior college transfer and Omaha native averaged 12.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 4.0 steals per game. His all-around performance earned him First-Team All-Summit, Summit League Defensive Player of the Year, Summit League Transfer of the Year and Summit All-Newcomer honors.Thurman, the 6’7” forward, brings athleticism to the Mavs frontcourt. He blocked a team-high 35 shots last year, finished first in rebounding (6.7 RPG) and third in scoring (13.9 PPG). USC will have to use its superior size to push Thurman out of the paint. While the Mavs have several guys bigger than Thurman, no one rebounds as well and no one has nearly as much experience.In both games, the Trojans must exert their length on the perimeter and size in the paint. It will be a test for a team that struggled last year to defend the paint, rebound and play half-court offense.While Montana and Omaha don’t sound like flashy opponents, they are the perfect competitors for the Trojans to begin the year. The Trojans should be able to outrun and outshoot both of these teams playing much the way they did last year, but these games are opportunities for the young squad to play big and work on parts of the game that ailed the team a year ago. It will be interesting to see Enfield’s game plan evolve over the weekend and how early and often his young bench gets playing time.