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Three Takeaways From USC Men’s Basketball’s Preseason Europe Tour

Freshman Isaiah Collier shone, but the Trojans’ exhibition in Europe proved they’ll need their big men to step up this winter

Normally, Isaiah Collier hits defenders and they crumble.

He preys on the gaps in defenses, the former highest-touted recruit in the nation spying an opening and hurtling his stocky frame toward the rim like he’s been flung from an Angry Birds slingshot. Anyone standing in the way often gets bumped back a foot and left to stare at an open jumper.

But at the start of the fourth quarter of USC men’s basketball’s exhibition against Croatia’s KK SC Derby Sunday, a tight affair in the final game of the Trojans’ Europe exhibition tour, freshman Collier attacked from the corner, bonked into another opposing jersey – and went flying to the hardwood himself.

Only to whip a trebuchet-style two-hander over his head, hit the floor, and watch a circus shot bank off glass for an and-one.

These last few days, certainly, have been humble beginnings of sort to Collier’s much-hyped tenure at USC across a two-week Europe preseason showcase. After two games against Greek club Mega Mis, the Trojans played SC Derby on Sunday in a cozy gym with no air conditioning in Dubrovnik, Croatia, a crowd of maybe 100 fanning themselves as sweat pooled off players’ faces.

That crowd, though, got a firsthand taste of the explosiveness Collier can bring to USC coach Andy Enfield’s fast-paced offense. Including his potential, here are three major takeaways after watching USC’s Europe play-cation games on TV:

Andy Enfield’s tinkering

With no Bronny James and Vincent Iwuchukwu – James’ recovery still fresh from a shocking late-July cardiac arrest and Iwuchukwu’s absence unknown – Enfield’s lineups held steady through two games against Greece: Collier, senior Boogie Ellis, junior wing Kobe Johnson, grad transfer DJ Rodman, and returning big Josh Morgan.

It was a very possible look at the Trojans’ starting five come fall. But in Croatia, Enfield moved Collier, Johnson and Morgan to the bench for a different look, starting sophomore guard Oziyah Sellers, freshman Arrinten Page and sophomore Kijani Wright.

The shift didn’t have a substantial impact, as Sellers, Page and Wright were all quiet Sunday, but did reveal a notable strategy that could rear its head come fall: staggering Ellis and Collier’s minutes as lead ball-handlers in separate units. The two didn’t share the court against SC Derby until the fourth quarter, when they led a Trojans push together off the strength of Collier’s playmaking and Ellis’ shotmaking.

Enfield also ran with 6-foot-10 junior Harrison Hornery for key stretches Sunday, trusting a hot hand as Hornery sent home six catch-and-shoot threes. With the Trojans desperately needing consistent bodies to crash the glass in their frontcourt rotation, Hornery is a name to watch as a floor-spacer with height.

Who’ll protect the paint?

Taking a 55-46 lead into the break Sunday, USC quickly lost its grasp as a legion of Croatians simply bullied them inside. Page got back-cut easily, leading to an impassioned discussion with Enfield. SC Derby snagged a couple second-chance buckets as they outsized the Trojans on the glass. Contests to layups were feeble.

The list of trustworthy bigs on this USC roster is slim – far from the Mobley days of the past. Josh Morgan offers a returning defensive presence, but has a limited skillset. Wright has a strong frame but was inconsistent in his freshman year. Page is talented but green, as evidenced by Enfield’s earful Sunday. Rodman is tough, but his game appears as beautifully eccentric as his neon-green-painted nails.

To support a high-octane, small-ball offensive attack, USC will need someone in the mix to step up behind Morgan.

Collier’s lead-guard potential

To be clear: the freshman from Georgia’s Wheeler High wasn’t perfect. Far from it. According to USC’s (unofficial) on-site stats from Greece, Collier committed 13 turnovers across USC’s first two games – clear signs of a young playmaker trying to adjust to a fast-paced college system.

But see halfcourt passes like a mid-dribble, one-hand sidearm whiz to the corner for a Kobe Johnson three, and Collier’s playmaking looks tailor-made for USC’s dynamic, wing-heavy offensive attack.

Source: OC Register



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