USC Women of Troy (3-8)
The summary of USC's non-conference play over at over at SB Nation's USC site Conquest Chronicles has already summed up what a number of Pac-12 basketball fans seem to be wondering right now: "Michael Cooper doesn't draw the disdain from fans that Kiffin and KO get, but as he enters his fourth year as the WBB head coach, he has yet to pilot USC to an NCAA tournament berth...It's difficult to say what Cooper's future holds."
In short, just two seasons ago nobody would have expected the Oregon State Beavers to challenge USC; this year, there's a good chance that the Women of Troy find themselves 0-1 after their season-opener in Corvallis today.
Granted, USC probably should've gotten to the NCAA Tournament at least once in Cooper's tenure - there's a strong argument that they've been snubbed at least once and you can't understate how much it would've meant to the team to have Jacki Gemelos healthy last season. But the bottom line is that for one reason or another, they haven't gotten it done in the Cooper era.
But let's start by looking at what has happened so far this season.
Four Factors statistics for USC in non-conference play.
USC efficiency numbers during non-conference play.
Narrative description: An outstanding rebounding team that hasn't done anything else well enough to this point to win consistently. As of right now, Omni Rankings has their loss to UC Davis as one of the biggest upsets of the season thus far.
SOS: 58.08 (24th nationally)
Upset wins: N/A
Upset losses: vs. UC Davis
MVP: Cassie Harberts, F (6'2", Jr, 13.78 MVP)
Harberts is really becoming a force in the paint. She's fourth in the conference in scoring average (16.7 ppg) and does so reasonably efficiently (a true shooting percentage of 55.78%). A major strength she offers is that she gets to the free throw line at an extremely high rate (75%). She's not necessarily a dominant rebounder (12.5 rebounds is 12th in the conference), but she's a strong enough overall post player to be considered a threat.
- Rebounding is clearly their biggest strength and the reason is the combination of Harberts and 6'1" senior Christina Marinacci (team-high 11% offensive rebounding percentage) are the primary, though not the sole, reason for that. With that experienced pair inside, this should be a team that rebounds well consistently.
- They have been badly outshot by opponents this season and that's a large part of how they lost to Davis: they only 31.3% in the second half whereas Davis shot 57.7%. It's really hard to win games like that no matter what else happens. Moreover, the problem is neither offensive nor defensive but both.
- Again similar to Oregon, this team looks really one-dimensional on paper but it doesn't stand out as quite as egregious for them: while Harberts does account for 34% of the team's overall statistical production, a number of the rest of their players do rebound well (Marinacci, Kate Oliver, and Alexyz Vaioletama). So although Harberts has been the most - maybe the only - consistent scoring option, she does get a lot of help on the boards.
X-Factor: Ariya Crook, G (5'7", So., 3.59 MVP)
Crook had a promising freshman year and offers a potentially intriguing one-two scoring punch with Harberts. The problem: she's the classic inefficient volume shooter; she can create her own shots, but she doesn't make them at a particularly high rate. As a good rebounding team, there's an argument that her missed shots aren't really as harmful as they would be on a team with less rebounders: if she can create shots and they can recover the rebounds for second chance points, they could be in good shape. But even better would be if Crook simply stopped missing so many shots. And the question is whether that means her taking different shots - or USC running different sets for her - or her just shooting less...or both.
Key question: How much is really riding on this season for Cooper?
It's hard to disagree with the Conquest Chronicles post that, ultimately, Cooper would be judged far more harshly for his performance at USC if he were a men's basketball coach - while women's basketball fans often lament low attendance, it can be a protective factor in the case of a coach that hasn't performed all that well.
So is there a specific goal he'd have to reach with this roster? Would stronger recruiting do it? But right now, making the tournament seems like a distant goal for this team: Real Time RPI's power rankings have them ranked as 11th in the conference and 215th in the nation. So if tournament appearances are the standard, it doesn't seem likely to be met this season.