Checking in on a few teams before season openers:
USC (I had the Trojans at No. 17; AP had them at No. 18 and ESPN/USA Today had the Trojans at No. 21).
Five key points, according to assistant coach Bob Cantu:
• This is the best depth the Trojans have had under Tim Floyd. The Trojans' staff said they can go deep into the bench.
• The Trojans are much bigger than they've been in the past. The Trojans have eight players on the roster 6-foot-6 or taller.
• The lineup is set with Hackett, Lewis and DeMar DeRozan on the perimeter and then Gibson and Alex Stepheson (if he's eligible) in the post. The Trojans should hear within the next three days whether Stepheson will be eligible immediately or must sit out the season after transferring from North Carolina. The waiver is now being sent to North Carolina, according to USC, for them to see before a final ruling. If Stepheson isn't eligible then 6-6 freshman Leonard Washington would start next to Gibson. Having the 6-9 Stepheson certainly makes them bigger.
• The rotation off the bench is also set with Washington as the top swing reserve, Donte Smith the top point guard reserve, Keith Wilkinson the top big man reserve and UConn transfer Marcus Johnson, another top wing reserve once he's eligible in December.
USC opens its season against UC Irvine on Saturday.
Five key points, according to coach Trent Johnson:
• Junior Tasmin Mitchell is progressing faster than Johnson imagined after he missing the majority of last season with a foot injury.
• Johnson likes his rotation a lot. He said he has no issues with how he's going to manage the minutes at this point. The key will be ensuring that sophomore forward Garrett Green is healthy. He had been out with a herniated disk.
• The Tigers have changed the negative culture around the team into a positive one. Johnson relayed that Mitchell said there was a time recently when everyone talked about how bad they were but now talk about the Tigers how good they're going to be.
• Johnson loves Mitchell's leadership. He's ensuring the team is taking all of the attention in stride and showing that they haven't proven anything yet.
LSU, which scrimmaged Tulane and the University of New Orleans in the preseason, opens its season at Jackson State on Saturday.
Five key points about the Tide as the season approaches, according to coach Mark Gottfried:
• Point guard Ronald Steele is back and healthy. Steele missed last season with knee injuries, declared for the NBA draft but then withdrew. He's back and balling, according to Gottfried.
• Freshman JaMychal Green is ready to have a major impact for the Tide. Gottfried fully expects Green to be a force inside.
• Gottfried said he really likes the team's athleticism: "We're going to be very quick."
• One of the questions he has is: "Can we consistently score inside?"
• He's also concerned about how good a perimeter-shooting team the Tide will be this season. That puts more pressure on guard Alonzo Gee to make shots. But, "I'm excited. I think we've got a chance to be very good," Gottfried said.
Alabama opens its season against Mercer on Sunday.
One of the better comeback stories will occur later on Wednesday at Pauley Pavilion when Charlie Coles leads the Miami RedHawks against Weber State in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. Coles' return to the bench is significant. One of the more respected coaches in the country, Coles missed the end of last season with a number of health issues, including his heart and gall bladder. He spent a number of days in the hospital and the past six months getting well.
• Oregon State coach Craig Robinson has turned down the need for Secret Service protection. That could change if there are credible threats against the President-elect Barack Obama's brother-in-law. If Robinson does use Secret Service then it becomes a bigger deal. You could see opposing gyms being swept prior to Oregon State's arrival. Oregon State plays at Howard on Friday. The Beavers arrive in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday night and will take a tour on Thursday of Obama's U.S. Senate office and the Capitol. But that's it. The Obamas (the President-elect and wife Michelle Obama, Robinson's sister), will be in Chicago, so they won't be attending Oregon State's season opener.
• UMass will go as far as Chris Lowe and Ricky Harris can take them this season. Lowe had 18 points and dished out 11 assists in UMass' season-opening win against Arkansas-Monticello. The Minutemen play host Southern Illinois Wednesday night with a trip to New York City on the line.
• Don't fret if you see any losses in the upcoming CBE tournament at the four host sites -- Syracuse, Kansas, Florida and Washington. The four hosts are going to Kansas City on Nov. 24-25. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim chuckled about this when he was looking at the event and still guaranteed a spot in K.C. That's not the case with the CVC in New York next week. Duke is in. UCLA still needs to win two, Southern Illinois-UMass or Northeastern-Michigan are the other two finals to determine the teams.
• The National Association of Basketball Coaches couldn't get enough hotel rooms in Detroit at the Final Four. So, according to associate director Reggie Minton, half of the rooms will be in Windsor, Ontario. Minton said that he has personally driven across the border multiple times to test the border crossing. He said that a passport would be required or a passport card that resembles a driver's license. One of the hotels in Windsor is at a casino. Minton said that he hasn't had one coach tell him he won't attend because the Final Four is in Detroit. He did say he could anticipate schools or coaches cutting back and not showing because of the economy.
• Division III schools have registered three wins over Division I schools so far in exhibition games: UW-Platteville over Bradley; Mississippi College over Alcorn State and Randolph Macon over George Mason.
• Davidson's Stephen Curry put up 41 points in an exhibition win Tuesday night over Lenoir Ryne. Curry was 15-of-19 from the field, 6-of-9 on 3-pointers and had seven boards.
• Exhibition games can be stressful just like regular-season games. Charlotte coach Bobby Lutz was publicly reprimanded by his athletic director, Judy Rose, for his actions in a game against his alma mater, Pfeiffer. The incident came in the first half of the game in which Lutz, while attending to an injured player, received a technical foul and approached the opponent's team huddle. Here are the statements:
Rose: "I understand actions in the heat of the moment. But a line was crossed that was unacceptable. Coach Lutz has always been an intense competitor and we are confident that he will channel that energy in a more positive manner."
Lutz: "My passion for one of my players got the best of me. I voiced my displeasure to the opposing coach and longtime friend Dave Davis and I apologized to him immediately after the game. At this time I would like to publicly apologize for the mistake in my behavior."