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USC at a Glance

November 22, 2002|Paul Gutierrez

Last season: 22-10 overall, 12-6 in Pacific 10 Conference.

Finish: Tied for second in conference, advanced to the title game of the Pac-10 tournament and, as the No. 3-seeded team, lost to Arizona. Seeded fourth in the South Regional of the NCAA tournament, USC was upset in the first round by 13th-seeded North Carolina Wilmington.

Coach: Henry Bibby, seventh season, 103-77.

Who's gone: David Bluthenthal, Gennaro Busterna, Sam Clancy and Brandon Granville.

Who's new: Guards Brandon Brooks and Roy Smiley, forward Jeff McMillan and center Jonathan Oliver.

Projected starters: Forward Nick Curtis (1.0 points, 0.8 rebounds), guards Errick Craven (11.8 points, 4.4 rebounds), Desmon Farmer (9.5 points, 3.3 rebounds) and Robert Hutchinson (2.0 points, 1.6 assists) and center Rory O'Neil (4.3 points, 2.3 rebounds).

Keys to season: Moving on. Having lost what Bibby referred to as "the cornerstones" of his program -- Bluthenthal, Clancy and Granville -- USC must forge a new identity, and quickly. And whoever wins the three-man point guard battle among highly touted newcomer Brooks, sophomore Derrick Craven and senior Hutchinson by the time conference play opens will dictate that personality. Also, regaining the services of the suspended Jerry Dupree, who changes the flow of a game with his shot-blocking ability, will lessen the sting of losing the Big Three, as will more consistent play from the enigmatic Farmer.

Outlook: The rebuilding Trojans open a season unranked for the first time in three years. But after Arizona and Oregon, the Pac-10 is wide open and the Trojans could finish anywhere from third to eighth. Still, Bibby has the Trojans right where he wants them, flying under the national radar. Plus, a less-than-compelling nonconference schedule can help the Trojans get some victories and gain confidence entering Pac-10 play. How well and how soon the three junior college transfers -- Brooks, Smiley and Oliver -- adapt to Bibby's system could make the difference between a school-record third consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament -- where the Trojans, a popular pick to reach the Final Four last season, unexpectedly fell in the first round -- or another lackluster date in the National Invitation Tournament.

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