A new-look Southern California team tips off the 2020-21 season on Wednesday, welcoming Cal Baptist to the Galen Center.
The Trojans ended their 2019-20 campaign at their home venue, knocking off rival UCLA with a dramatic buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Jonah Mathews. That win marked three straight victories for USC, which built significant momentum before the COVID-19 pandemic ended the college basketball season.
Mathews is gone. So, too, is post player Onyeka Okongwu, who was drafted No. 6 overall in last week's NBA draft. USC also replaces Nick Rakocevic, Daniel Utomi and Elijah Weaver from last year's 22-win lineup.
The five combined to average 54.9 of USC's 70.3 points per game. Okongwu and Rakocevic were also the Trojans' leading rebounders, both averaging more than eight per game, and Mathews led the team in steals at 1.4 per game.
Despite the overhauled roster, USC is picked to finish fifth in the preseason Pac-12 Conference poll, and the Trojans received a first-place vote. Credit an influx of new talent and a dash of returning contributors moving into more prominent roles.
USC returns last season's assists leader, guard Ethan Anderson. He will share the backcourt with Santa Clara transfer Tahj Eaddy, one of three high-profile transfers the Trojans added from mid-major programs. Another is Drew Peterson, a versatile, 6-foot-8 wing who received NCAA clearance to play this season after his move from Rice.
"He's just a good, all-around basketball player," Trojans coach Andy Enfield said of Peterson at USC media day. "He can fill in for virtually any spot on the floor, except center."
Center is unlikely to be too much of a concern, though. USC welcomes 7-foot freshman Evan Mobley, a five-star recruit and brother of returning post player Isaiah Mobley. The two join Wofford transfer Chevez Goodwin and returner Max Agbonkpolo in the Trojans' frontcourt.
"Over quarantine, I've been working out every day. I've gotten a lot stronger," Agbonkpolo said at media day.
He also cited improved 3-point shooting and ball-handling, as he is likely to settle into a stretch-four role.
Like USC, Cal Baptist tips off its season with an overhauled lineup. The Lancers -- entering their third year of Division I membership -- won 21 games and finished in second place in the Western Athletic Conference.
However, the Lancers replace their top six scorers -- four of whom averaged 11 points per game or more.
Transfers Elijah Thomas (Saint Mary's), Russell Barlow (TCU) and Gorjok Gak (Florida) fill some of the gaps. At 6-foot-10 and 6-11, Barlow and Gak give Cal Baptist a counter to USC's frontcourt size.
The Lancers also return guard Ty Rowell, who averaged 8.1 points per game before an ACL tear sidelined him early into the 2019-20 season.
"I'm back to 100 percent," Rowell said at WAC media day. "(The pandemic) actually helped me out. The season's pushed back a little bit, gave me a little more time to recover and get back to my routine."
--Field Level Media