Andy Enfield

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 9: Charles Buggs #23 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers drives against Alex Austin #44 of the Illinois Fighting Illini in the first round of the Big Ten Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 9, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Illinois defeated Minnesota 85-52. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Former Minnesota forward Buggs headed to USC

Leave a comment

With Nikola Jovanovic turning pro and Darion Clark and Malik Martin both transferring out, USC entered the summer in a position where they could afford to add another front court option to help with depth. Thursday afternoon the Trojans did just that, as former Minnesota forward Charles Buggs has decided to join Andy Enfield’s program.

As a graduate student Buggs will be eligible to compete immediately for the Trojans, who return rising sophomores Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu from last season’s front court rotation. News of Buggs’ decision was first reported by CBSSports.com.

Last season the 6-foot-9 Buggs averaged 5.9 points and 2.9 rebounds per game for Minnesota, shooting 46.2 percent from the field and 3.19 percent from beyond the arc. His best scoring output came in a win over Clemson in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, scoring 15 points, and from a rebounding standpoint his season high of ten came in a loss to Temple in mid-November.

With USC having the aforementioned Boatwright and Metu, not to mention highly regarded incoming freshman Harrison Henderson and another newcomer in Nick Rakocevic, Buggs will simply have to fit into the rotation as opposed to being asked to play a starring role. He gives USC some additional experience in the front court, something they lost with the departures of Jovanovic and Clark.

USC adds power forward Rakocevic to 2016 recruiting class

Westchester St. Joseph center Nick Rakocevic and teammates celebrate their 67-63 IHSA Class 3A state high school basketball championship game win over Belleview Althoff Catholic at Carver Arena, Peoria, Ill. on Saturday March 21, 2015. (AP Photo/Peoria Journal Star, Ron Johnson)
AP Photo/Peoria Journal Star, Ron Johnson
1 Comment

With front court rotation members Malik Martin and Dorian Clark both transferring at the end of the season, USC had room for a late addition as they look to contend in the Pac-12 in 2016-17. NBC Sports confirmed Monday afternoon that head coach Andy Enfield and his staff landed a commitment from 6-foot-11 forward Nick Rakocevic, who played his high school basketball at St. Joseph HS in Westchester, Illinois.

News of Rakocevic’s commitment was first reported by Scout.com.

Rakocevic joins fellow forward Harrison Henderson and guards Jonah Mathews and DeAnthony Melton in USC’s 2016 class to date, with those three having signed National Letters of Intent during the early signing period in mid-November. The Trojans will also add wing Shaqquan Aaron into the fold, as he sat out this season after transferring in from Louisville.

Rakocevic is considered to be one of the top prospects in Illinois, producing a big senior season for a team that finished fourth in the Illinois Class 3A state tournament. With averages of 19.8 points, 15.1 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game, Rakocevic was a CSN Chicago Preps all-area selection.

“Rakocevic is a solid late grab for USC after a very strong season in which he was the only senior on his final-four team in Illinois’ Class 3A. The big man has been inconsistent at times during his career, but he’s also a productive interior finisher who has some upside if he adds strength,” notes NBC Sports recruiting analyst Scott Phillips.

Rakocevic held offers from programs such as Arizona State, Miami and West Virginia in addition to USC. His decision to attend USC comes just days after he completed an official visit to the campus.

Even with the personnel losses USC incurred at the end of this season, they don’t exactly have a bare cupboard in the front court either. Nikola Jovanovic will be back for his senior season, and two of the Pac-12’s top freshmen in Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu return as well. Those returns should aid the development of Rakocevic and Henderson next season.

No. 17 Arizona beats No. 23 USC, moves into tie atop Pac-12

Arizona head coach Sean Miller reacts to a foul call against the Southern California during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
AP Photo/Rick Scuteri
1 Comment

Following a home loss to No. 11 Oregon January 28, a game in which their 49-game home win streak came to an end, No. 17 Arizona looked nothing like a team capable of winning a third consecutive Pac-12 title. But at the time they were playing without the injured Allonzo Trier, and since that defeat the Wildcats have won five straight games. Their most recent result was an 86-78 home win over No. 23 USC Sunday night, a result that moved Sean Miller’s team into a tie for first place in the Pac-12 with Oregon.

But while the game did show reasons why Arizona is more than capable of taking yet another Pac-12 title, it also showed the inconsistency that the Wildcats have fought to address throughout the season.

Arizona got off to a great start offensively against USC, getting just about whatever they wanted around the basket as they built a lead that reached 19 points late in the first half. Ryan Anderson made his first three shot attempts, with all three coming at the rim, and dribble penetration was working as well. But presented with the opportunity to land a decisive blow to start the second half, Arizona got complacent and that opened the door for a USC comeback.

The Wildcats settled for perimeter shots, and while some credit should be given to USC for their improved defense Arizona made things easier on the Trojans than they needed to be. Arizona has capable three-point shooters, with senior guard Gabe York being the best of the bunch. But when faced with a clear advantage on the offensive end of the floor they lost some discipline early in the second half, settling for contested looks as opposed to looking to the post feeds and dribble drives that were so successful at the game’s start.

“Coach always emphasizes that we get the ball inside early, try to get fouls on the other bigs, try to set the tone that way. For the most part, all year [the guards] have done a great job of starting the game that way,” Anderson said after the game. “And then once they start double-teaming, Parker, Gabe, Allonzo starting getting wide open shots and the game starts flowing for us. I thought that in the first half we were really flowing on offense and defense; we’ve just got to carry that over to the second half a lot better.”

USC managed to trim Arizona’s lead to two points but they were unable to get over the hump. Bennie Boatwright scored ten of his team-high 18 points in the second half, and both Jordan McLaughlin (11 second-half points) and Elijah Stewart (ten) were more productive in the second stanza as well. Arizona got back to attacking the paint offensively late, and with USC missing a couple opportunities to either tie the game or take the lead the Wildcats managed to put the game away.

York led four Wildcats in double figures with 17 points, and as a team Arizona shot 50 percent from the field and better than 56 percent inside of the arc on the night.

Arizona won’t get another shot at Oregon, but with five games remaining they’re in position to win another Pac-12 title. And as long as they look to take advantage of the areas in which they’re most successful, getting Anderson looks in the post and using dribble penetration from the likes of Trier, they’re more than capable of accomplishing that goal.

Arizona got away from that plan of attack early in the second half Sunday night, but managed to get back to what worked in closing the game out.

Elgin Cook, Oregon take care of No. 21 USC

Southern California's Katin Reinhardt, left, has his shot blocked by Oregon's Chris Boucher during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016, in Eugene, Ore. (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)
AP Photo/Chris Pietsch
Leave a comment

Entering Thursday road teams had a record of 10-22 in Pac-12 play this season, so it goes without saying that even with the balance getting wins away from home has been very difficult. That trend continued in Eugene, as No. 21 USC played its first game as a ranked team since the 2008-09 season and lost 89-81 at Oregon.

For the Trojans this game was another step in the growth process Andy Enfield’s program is still going through, even with their hot start to conference play. Picking up wins as a surprise team is much different than doing so as a team with a target on its back, and against Oregon the Trojans were unable to string together the stops needed to make a run in the second half.

Oregon, which may not have the depth it envisioned before the season began thanks to the loss of Dylan Ennis for the remainder of the season, still has a host of options capable of putting points on the board. Elgin Cook, one of the Pac-12’s most versatile players, proved especially difficult to slow down as he accounted for 26 points on 8-for-13 shooting from the field and 9-for-12 from the foul line.

The senior forward led four Ducks in double figures, and against the USC defense Oregon was able to get into the paint on numerous occasions throughout (43 points in the paint).

The defense will likely be the biggest takeaway from this defeat for USC, which entered the game as one of the conference’s better defensive units to this point in conference play. Even with Bennie Boatwright going for 23 points and 12 rebounds before fouling out and Julian Jacobs adding 18 and five assists, the Trojans showed their youth down the stretch with some questionable decision-making (Jacobs’ technical foul hurt as well).

They’ll get better, and in time USC will have the experience necessary to win games of this magnitude on the road. If anything this result says more about an Oregon team that finally has its rotation set in stone. Dana Altman has a host of options to call upon on the perimeter and in the post, and the presence of interchangeable pieces such as Cook and Dwayne Benjamin makes this group appear deeper than the number of bodies would lead one to believe.

In a conference race that’s wide open now and will likely be throughout the remainder of the season, Oregon strengthened its case as a Pac-12 contender while also bringing USC back to the pack.

Wild quadruple OT victory another step forward for USC

Southern California guard Julian Jacobs (12) battles over Arizona guard Allonzo Trier (11), guard Kadeem Allen, bottom center and center Kaleb Tarczewski, bottom right, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016, in Los Angeles. Southern California won it in a fourth overtime 103-101. (AP Photo/Gus Ruelas)
Associated Press
2 Comments

Just six days ago USC experienced the roller coaster of emotions many rebuilding programs deal with as they look to transform into a winner. After building a 22-point second half lead at Washington the Trojans faltered down the stretch, losing by two in a game they should have been able to close out. Saturday night Andy Enfield’s team responded after blowing a second half lead to No. 7 Arizona, going toe-to-toe with the Wildcats and eventually winning 103-101 in a quadruple overtime thriller.

The Arizona team that USC beat isn’t as strong as the prior two editions that dominated the Pac-12 and reached the Elite Eight in both seasons. But as the standard bearer in the Pac-12, the Wildcats represent a significant hurdle for a young team looking to make the climb up the conference pecking order. And thanks to a host of contributors, USC managed to get over the disappointment of not closing the game out in regulation.

Not only did USC pick up a win that shows that they may have some staying power in a wide-open (and deep) conference race, but it’s also a sign that Enfield’s rebuilding job is headed in the right direction.

Elijah Stewart scored 27 points, the final two coming on a pair of free throws with 22.3 seconds remaining in the fourth overtime to provide the final margin, and he was one of five Trojans to score in double figures. USC shot just 43 percent from the field but they were able to take advantage of Arizona’s ball-screen defense on many occasions, and their 26-11 edge in points from the foul line made up for the field goal percentage.

USC’s still a work in progress, with two point guards in Julian Jacobs and Jordan McLaughlin who can both attack defenses but also have some issues when it comes to choosing their spots. Add in multiple perimeter options including Stewart and a front court anchored by junior Nikola Jovanovic and freshmen Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu, and there’s no lack for talent at USC.

Entering the season USC had the look of a group that was “one year away,” with the lack of success overriding the young talent Enfield and his staff managed to add to the program. But with the Pac-12 being what it currently is, a league made up of a lot of good teams but no “elite” squad ready to run off with the league title, why can’t “next year” be now for USC?

Given the lack of success in recent years, it’s understandable if some aren’t be ready to fully buy into USC as a Pac-12 contender. But even with that being the case, there’s no denying the fact that Saturday’s win was an important step forward for a program looking make the climb up the Pac-12 pecking order.

USC holds on to beat No. 20 Wichita State

Andy Enfield
Associated Press
2 Comments

With guards Fred VanVleet and Landry Shamet both sidelined due to injury, No. 20 Wichita State arrived at the Advocare Invitational shorthanded. But even with that being the case the highly successful Shockers represented quite the opportunity for USC, and Thursday afternoon the Trojans took advantage.

Despite turning the ball over 23 times Andy Enfield’s team found a way to win, hanging on to beat the Shockers by the final score of 72-69. Freshman forward Bennie Boatwright, a tough matchup for most teams as a 6-foot-10 stretch forward who can score from the perimeter, shot 5-for-9 from three and scored a team-high (and career-high) 22 points.

The tandem of he and junior Nikola Jovanovic, who added 14 points and 11 rebounds, outplayed the Wichita State front court on a day in which the Shockers needed greater contributions from those players. Add in 15 points and four assists from Jordan McLaughlin, ten points off the bench from Katin Reinhardt and a 12-for-23 afternoon from three, and the Trojans were able to do enough to make up for their high turnover count and Wichita State’s 24 points off of turnovers.

Given the absence of VanVleet and Shamet there’s no reason to panic regarding Wichita State. Ron Baker, who was exhausted by the end of the game due to the heavy load he was asked to shoulder, scored a game-high 25 points and the play of freshman Markis McDuffie was a positive to build on.

McDuffie, who entered Thursday’s game without a made field goal in his first two appearances as a Shocker, shot 5-for-9 from the field and contributed 14 points and three rebounds off the bench. With their current perimeter rotation being what it is McDuffie will have opportunities to contribute, and the Shockers will need him to take advantage as they await the returns of VanVleet and Shamet (and the addition of Conner Frankamp).

Doing so will not only help Wichita State in the short term but in the long-term as well, thus giving Gregg Marshall another option to call upon on his bench.

Thursday’s outcome, even with the desire to see more from Anton Grady (eight points, seven rebounds), says more about USC at this point in time than Wichita State. Enfield’s first two seasons at the helm were about amassing the talent needed to compete in the Pac-12 while also gaining valuable (and at times painful) experience. In year three the Trojans hope to take a step forward within the conference, and wins like this one provide evidence of the program’s growth.