The first two years of the Andy Enfield era have been a bit rough. The Trojans have gone a combined 23-41 over the last two seasons, which has led to some wondering whether Enfield was the right man for the job.
On the Thanksgiving of his third season at the helm, Enfield has taken a pretty big step toward proving himself. In fact, he got what is pretty clearly the biggest win of his USC career thus far.
USC defeated No. 20 Wichita State 72-69 in the first round of the Advocare Invitational in Orlando. The Trojans got 22 points from Bennie Boatwright, as well as 15 from sophomore guard Jordan McLaughlin. Nikola Jovanovic also had a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds.
The Shockers were without point guard Fred VanVleet, who is still recovering from a hamstring injury that he sustained early in the season. Without him and solid freshman guard Landry Shamet, the Shockers went with a two-guard look of Ron Baker and Evan Wessel. Baker poured in 25 points, five rebounds and four assists, but the rest of the Shockers combined 33 percent from the field.
Before we get to USC, let’s chat about the implications for Gregg Marshall’s group. It’s easy to brush this loss off talent-wise for Wichita, as VanVleet is probably one of the five most irreplaceable players in college basketball. However, this loss really does have a wide-ranging impact on the Shockers’ chances for an NCAA Tournament bid.
They’re now 2-2 this season, with losses to the only two NCAA Tournament hopefuls that they’ve played. With this loss, they move into the loser’s bracket of the Advocare Invitational. Instead of having a chance to get a quality win against Xavier, they now play an Alabama team that will only be competing to stay out of the cellar of the SEC this year. The best case scenario for them now is to beat Alabama, and hope to get a matchup against Iowa, Dayton or Notre Dame in the fifth-place game, then hope that those teams perform to expectations the rest of the way. Basically, it costs them at least one shot at a quality win, and possibly could cost them two.
And quality wins in non-conference settings — which we know are extremely important for schools in mid-major leagues — at this point could be pretty tough to come by for the Shockers due to the rest of their schedule. They do have a matchup against Utah which will be exceedingly important, but their next best games come against what is a very inconsistent UNLV team, and a very young Seton Hall team. The margin for error is now quite a bit smaller for the Shockers, who will get some help soon not only with the return of VanVleet, but also the addition of Conner Frankamp, a transfer from Kansas eligible beginning in December.
As for the Trojans, this is the big win that seems to have been inevitable this season. It’s a really talented group, with McLaughlin leading the way. Enfield has re-made the roster with great athletes and shooters to surround him (just like at Florida Gulf Coast), including sophomore Elijah Stewart and the freshman stretch-four Boatwright, who was ever so critical today. They were always likely to catch someone this year just due to that skill, but the question now shifts to whether or not they can sustain the push and continue to build off of it.
We’ll get a good look at them against a team who can match up with that skill and athleticism tomorrow when they take on Xavier. Enfield has the talent in place that he needs to at least be somewhat successful this season and make a jump in the Pac-12 standings.
And today was a big step toward proving that he’s the man who can take them there to both his supporters and his detractors.