With time winding down in the USC men’s basketball team’s last home game last month, junior forward Nikola Vucevic stepped to the line to take two free throws.As he prepared to shoot, a faint “one more year” chant could be heard coming from the student section.This continued as the game reached its final seconds, and while the chant was intended for Vucevic, it could have easily applied to another man on the USC bench: coach Kevin O’Neill.After USC exited the NCAA tournament as quickly as it entered, questions about O’Neill’s job status hit the Internet. USC has been mediocre during O’Neill’s two years at the helm and there are few signs the program is rapidly improving.O’Neill did exceed expectations by getting into the tournament this year, but his team’s inconsistent play remains a concern.Yet, with that in mind, O’Neill deserves one more year to show significant improvement in the basketball program.O’Neill is the coaching equivalent of a journeyman. He has been to a lot of places, never failing, but never enjoying great success either. He has been to the tournament a couple of times, but never made a huge dent.Based on past experiences, it’s reasonable to assume O’Neill is not going to turn USC basketball into an annual Pac-10 contender.Since he’s only been here two years, however, it would be unfair of USC to fire him this summer. He hasn’t fully had a chance to make his mark on the sanction-plagued program, thanks to former coach Tim Floyd.He also hasn’t had a chance to bring in a lot of recruits, which is important when establishing if a coach is succeeding in a particular environment.O’Neill has two recruits above an 89 rating, according to ESPN.com, coming in next year, as well as 2009-10 Big Ten Honorable Mention forward Aaron Fuller and center James Blasczyk, a former Texas A&M player and one-time top-50 high school recruit in TexasIt’s not the class John Calipari gets every year at Kentucky, but it’s a solid ragtag group of players, who could come together to help USC to the next level.But we won’t know until next year, when O’Neill gets the chance to implement his system with the guys he recruited.If significant improvement — and by that I mean more consistent play, not losing to teams nobody has ever heard of, and becoming a lock for the NCAA tournament — isn’t made, it would be right for Haden to look elsewhere for someone who can lead USC basketball into the elite of the Pac-12.Now before you snap and say USC basketball will never be Pac-12 elite material or USC basketball isn’t important, consider this: Not only is the Galen Center, built just five years ago, begging for a headlining act, but the entire Pac-12 is begging for someone to step up and be the face of the conference.Five different teams have won the conference title in the last five years.If O’Neill can’t get the program on the rise next year, the only way for Pat Haden to fix that is to hire a big name coach and it just so happens there will likely be one on the market next year.Yup, I’m talking about former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl.Despite all the sanctions, I think most would agree Pearl would be a great fit for the Trojan program. He’s young, colorful and a great marketer. He’s also a big name recruits can gravitate to.He does have a lot of baggage, however, which is why it would be unwise for USC to even think about him now.If Haden even hinted he were thinking about Pearl, that would not only send the wrong message to the NCAA Committee of Infractions but would also contradict the delicate reputation Haden has built for the USC athletics program in the past nine months.Yes, Pearl lied to the NCAA, which is obviously a big no-no. And no, that wasn’t his only offense. Yet, I believe he is truly remorseful and deserves a second chance. And there is no place he would be under a sharper watch than at USC.I’m aware the Committee on Infractions can give him a two-year show-cause penalty, meaning any place that hires him needs to get approval from the committee first, but Tennessee dismissed Pearl more for its overall athletic reputation than the health of its basketball program.Barring any extensive penalties handed down to Pearl by the NCAA this summer, if O’Neill can’t show he’s bringing the program to another level after this season, Haden would be wrong to discount Pearl as a replacement once the talk and feelings about his illicit activity die down. But O’Neill definitely deserves this next year to prove his worth. “Spittin’ Sports” runs Fridays. To comment on this article email Kenny at email@example.com or visit dailytrojan.com.
Perfection.It’s something few teams can boast. But, with Wisconsin Mr. Basketball winner Luke Fischer leading the way, Germantown can now say they’ve done it two consecutive years.And, well, they can say they’ve won 56 straight games, too.Being named the MVP of the tournament and finishing the game with 17 points and seven rebounds, Fischer led Germantown (28-0) past Mukwonago (23-5) 57-28 Saturday night at the Kohl Center, capping the program’s second-straight perfect season.“It’s been a long journey and a long March to get here,” Germantown head coach Steve Showalter said. “Once we did it once, it was much more difficult to do it again. This game, while the score probably doesn’t reflect it as much as it reflects inside of me, this game was a battle, a war, a struggle the whole way.”It wasn’t the usual way of victory for Germantown. The usual hot-scoring hands of juniors Jake Showalter and Lamonte Bearden were limited to a combined eight points and the team’s prolific offense was held below 60 points for the first time all season.The transition opportunities weren’t there either, as Mukwonago’s physical, tough style of play allowed its opponent only four fast-break points and brought the pace of the game to a grinding halt in a half-court slugfest.The game was tight the entire first half, with Germantown holding a 25-18 lead going into the break thanks to a layup from Fischer with 42 seconds left.While Germantown is known as an offensive team, it was the group’s defense that got the job done to capture the State Championship. The Warhawks held their opponent to just 20.9 percent shooting from the field and didn’t allow a single Indians’ player to get into double digits.“Germantown is a heck of a basketball team,” Mukwonago head coach Jim Haasser said. “I thought we battled about as hard as we could battle. I’m very proud of the boys. I thought we competed right up to the end.”The Warhawks’ balance and depth proved too much for the Indians to handle throughout the game. Every time Mukwonago would make a run or spark their fans to life, Germantown had an answer, as all six players in its rotation scored.Fischer, a member of the Indiana Hoosiers’ 2013 recruiting class, made his presence known in the game, going 8-for-10 from the field with high percentage looks while contesting every rebound in the paint.But, Mukwonago made a point to attack the 7-footer early in the game, as their strong game around the rim forced Fischer into two quick fouls in the first quarter and limited him to just 12 minutes in the first half. Still, Fischer scored 11 points, including seven in the second quarter after checking back in.Just a day earlier, Fischer had enjoyed exerting low block position on Oshkosh North in the semifinals, but against a physically-gifted Indians’ squad Fischer found himself many times far out of the paint.“It wasn’t like last night where I could float around and have the ball lobbed up to me,” Fischer said. “I had to work for it and we all did a great job busting our butts to try to get offensive rebounds, but they’re just a big solid team.”Fatigue finally worked its way into Mukwonago in the game’s final eight minutes. Entering the fourth quarter trailing 36-22, the Indians whittled the Warhawks’ lead down to 10 with 5:23 left in the game. But, the floodgates burst open, as Germantown went on a final and season-defining run, scoring 19 consecutive unanswered points to close the game while not allowing their opponent to score a single point.“We just kept missing shot after shot,” Mukwonago junior Dominic Cizauskas said, who finished with nine points to lead his team. “We shot awful, it was pretty bad. We just weren’t hitting anything.”The Indians played with a short rotation, as every starter logged more than 24 minutes of play in the game. But, a day removed from winning a tremendously physical game against Milwaukee King, it became apparent there wasn’t much gas left in the tank, as the team committed uncharacteristically sloppy passes and shots in the final minutes of the game.“80-2 in three years, that’s a pretty good record for Luke Fischer and our team,” Showalter said. “Winning is so much sweeter. We’re going to do whatever we can to keep something going here.”
Published on December 19, 2018 at 10:26 pm No. 16 Syracuse (9-3, 6-2 Atlantic Coast) plays in its first bowl game since 2013 on Dec. 28 against No. 16 West Virginia (8-3, 6-3 Big 12) in the Camping World Bowl. In the month leading up to the game, several interesting storylines have developed including WVU star quarterback Will Grier deciding to not play in preparation for the NFL Draft and the possibility of Syracuse graduate transfers playing in their first games for SU.Below our beat writers address pressing questions leading into the Orange’s bowl game.How much of a difference will the absence of Will Grier make in the game?Andrew Graham: A rather big one. Grier is most definitely NFL bound, which is why he’s sitting this game out. Head coach Dino Babers said he’s not entirely sure what to expect from the Mountaineers’ other quarterbacks, though. The backup is Jack Allison, a redshirt sophomore with 10 attempts to his name this season. With no tape to scout, there’s no “book” on Allison or WVU’s other QB’s, he said. Babers brought up the other quarterbacks because he alluded that WVU may even bring out two quarterbacks, try to run from the QB position or throw other wrinkles out. While this does create a bit of a game planning black hole, none of the quarterbacks on this roster are as talented, polished or accomplished as Grier, and that’s going to show.Matt Liberman: Over the past two seasons, West Virginia quarterbacks have combined for 888 pass attempts. Grier has thrown 788 of those, and the backup, Jack Allison, has thrown just 10 passes this season. West Virginia wins its games through the air. Grier is top-5 in the nation in touchdowns, passing yards and passer rating. The Mountaineers rank third in the nation in passing yards per game and 75th in rushing. Without its star, who came into this season as a favorite to be a Heisman finalist, West Virginia will likely have to rely on its run game. Barring a Grier-like performance from whomever backs him up, that doesn’t bode well for WVU.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textJosh Schafer: Will Grier finished his final season with West Virginia averaging 351 passing yards per game with 37 touchdowns. Redshirt sophomore Jack Allison threw 10 passes all year. With that said, it’s hard to guess what will come of West Virginia’s offense. But if Allison doesn’t play near Grier’s level, the Mountaineers will rely on their run offense. In the regular season, the WVU offense averaged 162 rushing yards per game, 75th in the nation. Syracuse’s run defense improved as the season went on and can hold its own against an average WVU rushing attack. With the rushing attack in check, the Mountaineers may be forced to drop Allison back at a similar rate they would Grier. And with the seventh ranked pass rush in the country, Syracuse won’t let Allison have anything easy. The bottom line: Anytime a team’s best player sits out, it’s going to be in a bit of trouble.How much will SU by boosted if its newly-eligible transfers play?A.G.: It’s hard to say at this point. Wideout Trishton Jackson and running back Abdul Adams both only became eligible about a week ago. As members of the scout team, they’ve been running the offenses of SU’s opponent for 12 weeks. The challenge for them, Babers said, is getting up to speed with SU’s offense. They need to know the playbook perfectly, because, Babers said, if even one guy is off on a play, it can wreck all the timing. I still expect to see a healthy dose of Jackson and Abdul — they’ll provide a nice talent infusion — but as of now, it’s still probably up to SU’s regular crew of contributors to carry the load offensively.M.L.: I would caution anyone who thinks that throwing Jackson and Adams out on the first snap is a good idea. Yes, they’ve been at school for over a year now and have likely learned the playbook enough to go out and run their proper assignments, but they’ve never played it in a game. And working in Syracuse’s no-huddle, fast-paced offense is a completely different animal. I think SU rides with the combination that they have gone with all season long, and if the team is in need of a spark of energy, then Jackson and Adams may see some action.J.S.: At this point, we don’t know much about Jackson or Adams other than the whispers of them being explosive in practice. Which is why it’s not unreasonable to go back to their original recruiting profiles and brief college stints with other programs. They were both four-star recruits who transferred from schools with better recent football histories than Syracuse. Adams averaged 9.2 yards per carry last season at Oklahoma. If he gets even a few carries, Syracuse fans might be treated to a hint of his explosion. Jackson, a 6-foot-1 receiver, caught 12 passes for 143 yards last season with Michigan State. Quarterback Eric Dungey likes to spread the ball around in a pass-happy offense, which would benefit Jackson if he plays.What’s the game’s most important matchup?A.G.: SU’s pass rush versus WVU’s offensive line. Besides Grier, one of the Mountaineers offensive tackles, Yodny Cajuste, is sitting out the Camping World Bowl, too. This is then a ripe opportunity for Kendall Coleman, Chris Slayton and Alton Robinson to wreak some havoc. SU’s pass rush has been good, if not entirely consistent this season. But against a backup quarterback and a weakened offensive line, SU can seriously disrupt everything WVU will try to do offensively. SU’s dominant pass rush can kill plays before they really start. If Syracuse can do that semi-consistently on Dec. 28, it should neuter the Mountaineers vaunted offense.M.L.: Can Syracuse get its run game going? Where West Virginia will be suiting up with a second-string quarterback, SU will likely have the upper hand offensively, only if Moe Neal, Dontae Strickland and Jarveon Howard are able to advance the football and be a true threat to open up the sidelines for the Orange’s wideouts. If SU is able to push the ball up the gut, it’ll open the passing lines for Nykeim Johnson and Sean Riley in the flat and over the middle, and that in turn creates one-on-one matchups on the outside for Jamal Custis and Taj Harris. If SU is forced to abandon the run game, then Eric Dungey has to be great in order to take down the Mountaineers, and he has a tendency to be up-and-down. His last game against BC was terrific, we’ll see if he can maintain it.J.S.: Syracuse’s passing attack versus the West Virginia secondary. On paper, this is a matchup the Orange offense wins every time. The Orange rank 36th in passing offense while the Mountaineers defense sits at 99th. But in this game, one without Grier, it’s important how much the Orange win this matchup by — for several reasons. A few weeks ago, the thought of the shootout sounded daunting for Syracuse. But now with WVU less equipped to keep pace with the Orange, it must run away with it. Add in that it’s the final game for Dungey, a player who has dictated the tone and performance for this team in the past four seasons, and the significance of the passing game only increases. It’s safe to say Syracuse goes as Dungey goes. So, if Dungey can throw well, complemented by some runs, the Orange will have their best chance to win. Comments Facebook Twitter Google+