By Rich Ruben
Basketball is a game of numbers. Fans look at and compare one player’s scoring average against another’s, or one team’s points or rebounds per game compared to an opponent’s. I want to look behind some individual and team stats to try to get a more complete picture of player’s and team’s games and seasons. There are some surprising facts behind the stats.
Individual Player Stats
Most of us can now correctly answer the question, “Who is USC’s career leader in made three point shots?”
Jonah Mathews set a new career record of 247 made threes in his final game against UCLA, and would almost certainly have added to that total if basketball’s postseason was not eliminated by the virus. But if the question is phrased a bit differently and asks, “Which Trojan player has the most career made threes?” The answer changes.
Daniel Utomi made 250 threes in his career, including 43 in his final season at USC. Jonah sank 38% of his threes as a senior, many at key moments. He made 39% as a junior and 42% as a sophomore.
Nick Rakocevic finished his career with 931 rebounds, the second most by any Trojan player. The career leader is Ron Riley with 1,067 boards. Nick played in 136 games and averaged 6.79 rebounds per game.
Freshman were not eligible when Riley and there were 26 games in a season. Riley set his record in 78 games and averaged 13.7 boards, slightly more than twice as many as Nick. Taj Gibson grabbed 895 boards in three seasons and 105 games to place third on the all-time career rebound list. He averaged 8.5 per game, eighth best ever for a Trojan. In context, the 6-foot-8 Riley’s rebounding stats are remarkable.
The answer to almost any question about Trojan scoring is Harold Miner. However, Miner is only second in points per game and total points scored as a freshman. OJ Mayo averaged 20.7 in his one season at USC, breaking Miner’s 20.6 freshman record. Mayo played more games than Miner as freshmen and took exactly 100 more shots.
One more individual player stat: Which player has the highest percentage of made threes in his freshman season? There are a number of surprises in this category including that the leader isn’t Miner or Mayo. Miner is second at 42.3%, and Mayo made 40.9%, tied with Jordan Usher for fourth. Kevin Porter is third at 41.2%.
The all time leader: Gabe Pruitt made 45.0% of his threes as a freshman. I wouldn’t have guessed Pruitt with an unlimited number of guesses. Pruitt has the tenth-best percentage as a sophomore and Miner is not in the top ten.
Before last season, head coach Andy Enfield talked about how many shooters were on his team and how he expected the team to score a lot of points. Sorry coach, but that’s not how the season played out.
The Trojans’ points per game last season ranked 179th out of the 353 Division 1 schools. The offensive struggles came after Enfield’s prior teams’ successes. The 2017 team scored the most points by any Trojan team, while the 2018 team is second, the 2016 team is third, and the disappointing 2019 team is sixth. Another way to look at last season’s struggles to score is offensive efficiency–the average points per 100 possessions. Last season the Trojans ranked No. 208, compared to No. 36 in 2018 and No. 69 in 2016.
I believe that Enfield did his best coaching job this past season since he has been at USC. He realized that the team was not as good offensively as he anticipated, and he slowed the pace down and changed the focus to defense early in the season.
The Trojans finished No. 21 in defensive efficiency last year. The 2017 team was No. 189 and the 2018 team was No. 129. The Trojans’ defensive field goal percentage last year was 38.4%, tied for sixth-best for any Trojan team.
With Big O, Nick and Isaiah Mobley, it felt like the Trojans blocked a lot of shots last season, and they had 152 team blocks, which is the fifth most by any Trojan team. But the 2016 team had 182 and the 2017 team had 190.
These stats further emphasize how good the Trojan team defense was last year – there were less mistakes on switches, the guards (Mathews, Weaver, Utomi and Anderson) defended very well outside, and though Big O wasn’t able to block eight shots every game as he did in the season opener, he was so quick off the ground and powerful that opposing players hesitated to take shots and hurried others. He was perhaps the most imposing inside presence the Trojans have ever had.
One Final Sad But Not Unexpected Stat
Even with a team which was fun to watch with one of the best players in the country, and was in the race for the conference title almost all season, the Trojans only averaged 4,110 fans per home game. The attendance is even worse than it appears since the average was propped up in the last two weekends of the season with home wins over Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA.
When the team played true road games the average attendance was 9,178. This might not be the time to worry about attendance since it is likely that if there is a season the games will be played without fans, but the athletic department’s new leadership needs to figure out how to attract more students and fans to the games.