By Rich Ruben
The crazy mini bubble NCAA Tournament, full of upsets and close exciting games, is now behind us. Coaching staffs are in full recruiting mode, trying to fill out their rosters with the few remaining unsigned high school players and many hundreds of players in the transfer portal while they also recruit for the 2022-2023 season. When USC’s roster is completed for next season, we’ll take a deep dive look at all of the new recruits plus the three players who will be counted on next season but saw very limited action this year, Reece Waters, Boubacar Coulibaly and Josh Morgan. Now is a good time to assign my annual grades to the staff and players.
USC Coaching Grade – A+
The staff did an amazing job in putting together the roster, coaching this team to the Elite 8 and finishing second in the Pac 12-by percentage points. For their effort, Coach Enfield was the conference and region Coach of the Year.
The staff had to completely rebuild the roster. They lost the top five scorers from last year and returned only three sophomore players and one redshirt from the strong 2020 team. Ethan Anderson was the only returning starter and he had averaged 5.5 points and 4.2 assists in 24 minutes per game last year and was the surprise of the 2020 season.
Isaiah Mobley was the first big man off the bench in 2020. He played 20 minutes per game and averaged 6.2 points and 5.3 rebounds. Max Agbonkpolo played limited minutes in 24 games and averaged 2.5 points. And Noah Baumann red shirted last year after two seasons at San Jose State. Altogether only 14 ppg returned.
The Trojans were picked sixth in the pre season poll and that was primarily due to incoming freshman EvanMobley. During the height of the Covid pandemic when the NCAA prohibited on campus recruiting last Spring the staff found five transfers from the portal who were mostly under the radar players. These new players didn’t meet their coaches or teammates until August and with harsh LA virus restrictions the team began very restricted practice outside in August in the summer heat.
With so many things stacked up against this team they were one of the surprises of the college season. The schedule was reduced by four games and the Trojans finished 25-8, one less win than the school record. The Trojans finished 6th in the Ken Pom computer rankings and 9th in the final AP poll. Along the way they swept their two games with the Bruins, winning at Pauley by 18. USC also swept regular season “conference champion” Oregon (the second game in the Sweet 16), winning both games by 14.
They beat Arizona in Tucson by 14 and swept the Arizona trip, both for the first time in decades. The win over UofA was one of Arizona’s worst home losses in many years. They beat 12th ranked Kansas by 34 in the round of 32, the largest tournament loss ever for the Jayhawks.
Three of the Trojan losses came down to the final possession. They lost by three to UConn in Connecticut in the first full game without starting point guard Anderson, by two at Corvallis on a botched final offensive play, and by two in the Pac 12 Tournament to nemesis Colorado on a basket with 3 seconds left and after “giving” Colorado extra points from the line with a technical and a flagrant foul call.
To top off the coaching staff’s incredible year they have the number 12 recruiting class coming in with hopes of adding a very good JC forward who committed to the Trojans last fall.
Max Agbonkpolo – B
Max made a big jump in his play on defense, especially in USC’s zone where his length was a big factor. He looked much quicker this year and more confident on the court. The jump in defense deserves and A but he didn’t make the expected improvement on offense.
Max came to USC as a highly ranked athletic 6’8” wing who made a high percentage from beyond the arc in part because he could shoot over most defenders. He has grown an inch but he hasn’t yet played consistently and with confidence on offense. Max made some big threes in the NCAA Tournament and he is very good on the fast break due to his quickness and athleticism.
For the season he averaged 3.9 points, 2.6 rebounds and 1 turnover, and made half of his two point shots but only 36% overall, 23% from three and 69% from the line. It’s reasonable to expect he will spend this off-season concentrating on his shot and the coaches will be working with him to help reach his potential. If he improves his shooting he will be a key player next season.
Ethan Anderson – Incomplete
Ethan missed eight games with a back injury. When he returned, he admitted that in the first two weeks that he still was in pain. Watching him play it appeared he never was fully healthy after his injury. For that reason he grades out with an incomplete instead of the C his numbers would suggest.
On the season Ethan played 21 minutes per game and did not return to the starting lineup after his injury. He had a couple of big games after he returned and some big baskets though he was mostly the fourth or fifth option on offense. For the season he averaged 5.7 points, 1.8 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.8 turnovers. He made only 38% of his shots from the floor and from three and 61% from the line. Enfield had been counting on Ethan to make a big jump in his second season but it didn’t happen.
Noah Baumann – C
Noah played his first season for the Trojans after transferring from San Jose State. He averaged 45% from three for the Spartans in his two seasons and the staff expected comparable numbers from three but it didn’t happen.
Noah played only 11 minutes per game and averaged 3.6 points. (If a player averaged under one rebound, assist or turnover the stats aren’t provided here). He made 16-26 shots from inside the arc but made only 42% from the floor, 35% from three and a shocking 45% from the line.
Noah struggled on defense, especially when the Trojans played man to man which they did most of the season and that kept him off the court. The coaches this season did not have confidence in him and with three freshman guards in the new recruiting class, Noah has entered the transfer portal. It is too bad he didn’t find a role at USC because he is natural spot up shooter and a very nice kid.
Tahj Eaddy – A
If there was an award for the Trojan who contributed more than expected Tahj would be the runaway winner. Looking at his last season at Santa Clara didn’t lead one to expect his big season which culminated in being selected All Pac 12 second team. Two years ago he started for the Broncos and had a strong season. A year later he came off the bench most of the year and his scoring fell to 9 ppg.
There is no way to understand why he didn’t start for mid major SCU. In his one season with the Trojans he showed he could score at all three levels and averaged 13.6 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.5 turnovers. He shot 44% from the floor, a very good 38 % from three and a team leading 77% from the line. In the loss to Colorado in the Pac 1# Tournament the Buffs concentrated on keeping Tahj from getting open looks. He didn’t score until 3 1/2 minutes were left and then scored 11 points in a 3 minute span.
The numbers don’t tell the full story. When Ethan was injured the ball handling fell to Tahj and Drew Peterson. Neither was spectacular in that role but between them the did enough to allow the Trojans to keep winning.
Tahj will always be remembered as the second number 2 to beat the Bruins on a last second three in the final game of the season. The shot Tahj made was much more difficult than Jonah Mathews’ three the year before. Jonah made an open step back three on a play set up in a timeout. The Trojans didn’t have a timeout to set up a play this time, and they had only 3+ seconds left. It looked like they wanted to get the ball inside to Evan, but he wasn’t open and instead the Trojans barely beat the five second call and the pass came into Tahj in the corner on the baseline. It was not a great pass and Tahj was closely covered but somehow he managed to get a clean look though he was off balance and falling out of bounds. Nothing but net!
Evan Mobley – A+
Evan is a player Trojan fans will talk about many years from now. It is impossible not to give Evan an A+. He was on everyone’s first or second All American team and was the conference player of the year, freshman of the year and defensive player of the year. He came in ranked in the top three in his class and it appears he will be a top three draft choice.
Evan played 34 minutes per game and averaged 16.4 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 2.4 assists, 2.2 turnovers and 2.9 blocks. He made 57.8% of his shots, 12-40 (30%) from three and 69% from the line.
Evan’s length, athleticism and jumping ability altered many shots and caused opponents to pass rather than risk a block. One thing which distinguishes Evan from most bigs is his ability to block shots 15 feet from the basket and many of his blocks occur just after the ball leaves the shooters’ hands.
The only area in which Evan had issues was his strength. Bigger players were able to body him inside or keep him from getting offensive position to receive the ball. Drew Timme handled Evan well in the Elite 8 loss to Gonzaga. Evan will be working on his strength before preseason camp begins for whichever NBA team is fortunate enough to draft him.
Chevez Goodwin – B
Chevez had a solid year as USC’s third big man. He lived up to his reputation of a hustler and fierce competitor. In 16 minutes per game he averaged 5.6 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1 turnover. He has very good footwork around the basket and an advanced inside offensive game. He is limited to scoring from within 6-8 feet of the rim, but he doesn’t try shots he is not comfortable with and it was expected his game would be solely inside given his performance before he arrived at USC. He made 53% of his shots and 53% from the line. His free throw shooting improved over the last month of the season, climbing over 50%.
Chevez did a good job in blocking out under the boards. The area where he was not as good as expected was on defense. He plays defense by positioning and does not get off the floor quickly. Opponents got better shots inside against him than expected.
Isaiah Mobley – A-
Isaiah made the jump between his freshman and sophomore seasons that the coaching staff had hoped to see. His role changed and he started this season and played more minutes. His defense and rebounding improved significantly over his freshman season and he became very effective from outside late in the year. He also felt more comfortable with the ball, getting a defensive rebound and dribbling coast to coast for a layup in the Tournament, something he could not do a year ago.
He does not have the athleticism of his brother but is bigger and is a better inside defender. He can’t get up as quickly and won’t block shots like Evan; instead he uses his bigger body to keep opponents from getting to their spots.
Isaiah averaged 9.9 points, 7.3 boards, 1.6 assists and 1.2 turnovers. His shooting from outside and from the line got markedly better in the last 4-6 weeks of the season. He made 47% of his shots, 17-39 (38%) from three and 54% from the line. Like Chevez, he climbed over the 50% mark in the last month.
The area in which he needs to improve is his shooting inside. Too often he threw up mini hooks from poor angles or tried to muscle the ball up with no touch. There is no reason to doubt that this part of his game will continue to grow.
Drew Peterson – B+
Drew had a mid season slump during which he really struggled. He played very well over the first six weeks and the last five to six weeks and was invaluable to the team. Drew played 28 minutes per game and contributed in all phases. At Rice the year before he led the team in rebounds and assists. Drew is a very good weak side rebounder on the defensive end; he has a good sense where the wall is going and has the size to be a good rebounder.
Drew averaged 9.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.7 assists and 1.7 turnovers. On offense he relied on three shots. He is an effective shooter from three, has a long stride which allows him to get to the rim for his scoop shot, and has an 8-12 foot fade away shot in the lane.
Drew made a very good 47% of his shots, 35-91 (38%) from three, and 70% from the line. He sank several key shots during the Trojans’ tournament run.
The areas Drew will be working on is expanding his offensive game and on his defense. Drew is not especially quick and when the Trojans are in their man defense opponents regularly can shake him for open shots. He needs to stay on the ground and not leap at the first shot fake. Opposing teams are aware that Drew will bite on the first fake and many times Drew flew by an offensive player who waited and then had an open shot. On the plus side, Drew did not commit many fouls on the perimeter.
Isaiah White – A –
Isaiah started almost the entire season and brought a lot of energy to the starting lineup. He scored 22 points twice and averaged 7.6 ppg and 3.4 rpg though it seemed that he had many more rebounds. Many of his boards resulted in offensive put backs.
Isaiah made 42% of his shots, a better than expected 24-66 (36%) from three and 69% from the line. Isaiah has a very flat shot from three and the line. He was often left open outside because opponents concentrated on doubling the ball inside or limiting Tahj’s shot opportunities. When Isaiah had time to set himself he made far more three point shots than expected. His outside shot is an awkward looking set shot but he was far better from three this season than earlier in his career. Part of the reason may be that at Utah Valley he received much more of the defenses’ attention than at USC.
Trojan fans will remember this season and this group of players for a long time. The question now becomes whether Andy Enfield and his staff can continue to build on the recent success.