Following an impressive NCAA Tournament run in 2021 — and the team's first Elite Eight appearance in two decades — USC coach Andy Enfield has good reason to be encouraged about the trajectory of his program.
No, the Trojans won't be the favorites this season in a competitive Pac-12. And they also are likely to take a significant step back defensively following the departure of do-it-all forward Evan Mobley, who was the first person ever to sweep the Pac-12's Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year honors in one season.
Having said that, USC had plenty go right in the offseason, including the return of many rotation pieces along with key additions that should put the Trojans in the running for preseason Top 25 consideration.
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Andy Enfield
2020-21 RECORD (PAC-12): 25-8 (15-5)
2020-21 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to Gonzaga 85-66 in the Elite Eight
G Tahj Eaddy (13.6 ppg, 2.8 apg)
F Evan Mobley (16.4 ppg, 8.7 rpg)
USC received its biggest boost when Isaiah Mobley — Evan's older brother — announced that he'd be returning for his junior season in early July. The 6'10" Isaiah thrived in March, averaging 13.8 points in six postseason games while making a combined 10 of 15 3-pointers. After two seasons of serving as a role player offensively, Isaiah should be asked to be more assertive for this Trojans team on that end while projecting as the team's leading scorer.
Enfield has options when it comes to replacing Evan's minutes inside. Chevez Goodwin at 6'9" might be the most natural fit as a super senior; he was a key reserve last season while showing a knack for offensive rebounding and getting to the free-throw line. Long Beach State transfer Joshua Morgan played sparingly as a sophomore at USC but also has potential, as he earned Big West Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2020 while registering 80 blocks. Boubacar Coulibaly is an option as a rim protector as well.
The Trojans will miss the contributions of point guard Tahj Eaddy, who declared for the NBA Draft following an efficient season in which he averaged 13.6 points as a high-volume and accurate 3-point shooter. His departure should open more minutes for junior Ethan Anderson, who was the team's starter in 2019-20 before Eaddy took over that spot.
While Anderson has impressive assist rates, he'll need to cut down on turnovers and improve his 2-point shooting if he hopes to maintain his playing time. Malik Thomas, a 6'3" freshman combo guard who was ranked 76th in his class in the 247Sports Composite, gives USC another possibility there.
Isaiah White — like Goodwin — announced he'd be returning for a super senior year. He was a strong secondary scoring option for USC, starting 28 games in 2020-21 and averaging 7.6 points while also leading the team in steals.
Enfield should have two main outside shooting threats in his backcourt. Guard Drew Peterson (30 starts a season ago) made 38.5 percent of his 3s while averaging more than one per game. USC also added Memphis transfer Boogie Ellis, who is the reigning American Athletic Conference Sixth Man of the Year. Ellis was the Tigers' third-leading scorer as a sophomore (10.2 ppg), making 51 of 132 from deep (38.6 percent).
Junior Max Agbonkpolo, who played in all 33 games last year, gives USC some size on the wing at 6'9", though he needs to improve on his career 27 percent 3-point accuracy. Sophomore Reese Waters could be a rotation piece too; the former top recruit joined USC midseason in 2020-21 but played only spot minutes.
USC's late-season success wasn't overly complicated, as the team rode NBA lottery pick Evan Mobley and his defensive dominance to a deep March run.
While the ceiling — understandably — doesn't appear as high for the Trojans without him in 2021-22, Enfield appears to have done a nice job of securing a decent floor.
The bottom line: USC fans, at the least, should be expecting a second straight trip to the NCAA Tournament — something that's happened just once for the program since 2010.
Postseason Prediction: NCAA Tournament Round of 32
Pac-12 Prediction: 3