USC basketball moves forward on the court

Marcus Simmons stayed at the school, despite uncertainty over NCAA sanctions. AP Photo/Christine Cotter

The USC men's basketball program got some good news Thursday: Despite the NCAA Committee on Infractions' claim that former coach Tim Floyd and his assistants knew about alleged improper benefits given to O.J. Mayo during Mayo's one year at the school, the punishment was relatively tame [PDF]. The Committee clearly looked kindly on the basketball program's willingness to serve as the athletics department's sacrificial lamb. (That strategy didn't much help the football team, but hey, sometimes you eat the major infractions, and sometimes the major infractions eat you.)

Anyway, now that the men's hoops program has learned its fate, it can get back down to business on the court. Where do Kevin O'Neill and the Trojans go from here?

Believe it or not, (some) good news is on the way. After losing seniors Mike Garrett and Dwight Lewis -- who unfortunately had to suffer the brunt of USC's forfeited postseason in 2009-10 -- the Trojans will be young but talented. O'Neill's recruiting class includes two top-100 players in shooting guard Bryce Jones and point guard Maurice Jones, both of whom should start immediately. Then there's Marcus Simmons, a senior who averaged three points in about 17 minutes per game in 2009-10. O'Neill has done a rather masterful job keeping his players; Simmons is one of several who could have bolted this offseason but was convinced by O'Neill to stay.

Then there's the transfer: Fordham's Jio Fontan, who could crack the starting lineup once he becomes eligible in the spring semester, should be a nice addition to O'Neill's mix.

Indeed, the worst is over for O'Neill and USC. Last year, the Trojans shocked many by fighting through the post-Tim Floyd turmoil and competing for the Pac-10 title. Had USC not essentially banned itself from the postseason, there's a decent chance the Trojans would have made the NCAA tournament. Given the defections facing the program, it was a tremendous result.

2010-11's campaign might not be quite so positive; the Trojans will, after all, be young. They'll need to replace two of their most productive players with two freshmen. They'll need to incorporate previously inexperienced role players. But given the dire nature of USC's infractions, and the NCAA's stern punishment Thursday, things on the court could be an awful lot worse.