Coming off its best NCAA Tournament showing in 20 years, Southern California tips off the 2021-22 season Tuesday in Los Angeles against Cal State Northridge.
The Trojans won three tournament games by an average of 21.3 points, reaching the Elite Eight for the first time since the 2001 postseason to cap a 25-8 campaign.
Although USC replaces standout forward Evan Mobley — the first player to ever win Pac-12 Conference Freshman, Defensive Player and Player of the Year awards in the same season — the Trojans welcome back several key contributors.
Mobley’s brother Isaiah opted to return at the deadline for entry into the NBA draft after Evan Mobley went third overall to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Isaiah Mobley averaged 9.9 points and 7.3 rebounds per game last season.
USC also returns guards Drew Peterson, Ethan Anderson and Isaiah White, as well as forward Chevez Goodwin.
Transfer guard Boogie Ellis scored in double-figures per game last season at Memphis. He joins Mobley as a Preseason All-Pac-12 selection.
“All of our guys have improved,” Isaiah Mobley said at Pac-12 media day. “We just have to keep growing on those improvements. … I think we can have another season like we had (in 2020-21).”
Cal State Northridge opens the campaign seeking more of a turnaround from last season than a replication. The Matadors went 9-13 and coach Mark Gottfried was put on administrative leave in April while the school conducts an investigation into possible NCAA violations.
Interim boss Trent Johnson leads Cal State Northridge into 2021-22 in his first head-coaching role since leaving TCU in 2016. Longtime Pac-12 followers will remember Johnson for his successful four-year run at Stanford from 2004 through 2008.
Johnson’s presence is not the only significant change for the Matadors this season. They must replace TJ Starks, the Texas A&M transfer who won Big West Conference Newcomer of the Year after scoring 21.7 points per game.
Double-figure scorers Darius Brown II (10.5 per game) and Lance Coleman II (13.9) lead the new-look Matadors.
“With this group, the biggest thing is we have to stay together, regardless of what the circumstances are on and off the floor,” Johnson said. “Things are going to get tough; we don’t need to deviate and try to do too much. Everybody needs to understand, do what you can, focus on the next play, focus on being the best teammate you can possibly be, make plays for each other and everything will take care of itself.”
–Field Level Media