When Troy hired Scott Cross in 2019, it chose a man with proven success, and this decision is paying dividends for the program in Cross’ third season.
After a disappointing pair of seasons to start Cross’ tenure at Troy, the Trojans were projected to be Sun Belt bottom feeders again in year three. To the surprise of many, Troy is entering Sun Belt play with one of the conference’s more impressive resumes.
Troy currently has a solid 10-5 record, and the team has already shown signs of growth since the start of the season. After a 5-4 start, Troy won four consecutive games on the eve of conference play.
The real coming out party came in Troy’s Sun Belt opener, when the Trojans traveled to conference favorite Texas State and came away with a decisive 78-63 victory. This was a significant upset, as the Bobcats were 83 spots higher than the Trojans in Kenpom.
This Troy team is clearly starting to buy into the same core pillars of Cross’ coaching philosophy. When observing this Troy roster, the team is devoid of star talent. Yet the Trojans are playing a winning brand of basketball because they are playing the game the right way. Troy’s success this season has been predicated on disruptive defense and tenacious rebounding.
Cross is also relying on a deep bench. Currently, 43% of Troy’s minutes are coming from its bench. This is the 11th highest number in college hoops, per Kenpom. While there are surely some skeptics about how real Troy’s early success is, there are a couple of reasons to believe this team will only continue to improve as the season wears on.
This team entered the season as one of college basketball’s more inexperienced groups. In fact, a pair of newcomers are currently leading Troy in scoring.
UTEP transfer Efe Odigie has proven to be an enormous steal for the men of Troy. Odigie leads the Trojans with 11.2 points per game, and he’s also coming down with 5.8 rebounds. Second on the team in scoring is 5-foot-8-inch freshman Duke Deen, who is scoring 10.1 points per matchup. Outside of Odigie and Deen, Troy doesn’t have a single player scoring in double figures.
This is a very deep roster. The Trojans are deploying a deep cast of players that have defined roles. For example, junior forward Zay Williams serves as Troy’s rebounding stalwart, averaging close to seven boards per game. Sophomore guard Desmond Williams is Troy’s 3-point sniper, converting on 42% of his 3-point attempts.
The strength of this team is their depth, the Trojans currently have 13 players averaging at least nine minutes per game. Through the first 15 games of the season, Troy has already had five different players that have finished a game as the team’s leading scorer.
“[My philosophy is to] work extremely hard, serve others and make everything competitive,” Cross said at his introductory press conference back in 2019.
Cross’ deep cast of players also resembles a group that has clearly bought into the core value of serving others. This Trojans group is as unselfish as they come, with every player clearly being dedicated to doing whatever it takes to win as many games as possible.
It’s still too soon to label Troy as Sun Belt contenders or pretenders. This is a conference that typically has a lot of parity, and as a result, the Trojan faithful can be optimistic that this group has what it takes to contend for the conference championship this year. Historically, an important indicator of Sun Belt success in March is defense and this group is clearly figuring it out on that end.
Like many young and inexperienced teams, Troy still lacks consistency. After the Trojans romped Texas State in San Marcos, they fell to Cross’ old team in the UT-Arlington Mavericks. The Mavericks were limping into the match-up with a subpar 5-7 record on the season, clearly appearing to be a worse team than Texas State. If the Trojans want to prove themselves as a team on the verge of establishing Sun Belt success, these are the games they should win.
It took some time, but in year three the principles that Cross uses to establish a winning foundation are coming into fruition at Troy. While this may not be the most talented roster, they play a tough brand of basketball where new players are called upon to step up on a nightly basis.
Prior to taking over at Troy, Cross spent a dozen years at UT-Arlington, where he posted nine winning seasons and compiled an impressive record of 225-161.
The next step for both Cross and the Trojans is to get into the NCAA Tournament. Troy has only made the NCAA Tournament three times in program history, with the most recent visit coming in 2017. Time will only tell if Cross is ever able to get the monkey off his back at Troy, but the signs are clear that he’s in the process of building a program that will finally find long term success in the conference.