by Craig Yamada
Who: UW (8-3) at USC (8-5)
When: Wednesday, 7:30
TV: None (Thanks a lot FSN)
Radio: 950 AM
The time has come for the Huskies to kick start the Pac-10 season. And they will do so for a two game stint in LA, beginning with the Trojans of USC. The Trojans are arguably one of the hottest teams in the Pac-10 right now. After downing top AP 25 teams such as formerly ranked #18 Tennessee and #14 Texas, it is safe to say that USC is carrying the Pac-10 flag going into the regular season. No other team has performed as well as the Trojans against ranked teams this season. They also had a near upset of #3 Kansas, only to be crushed by Josh Selby in the closing seconds of that game. Needless to say, USC is proving that they are the best under the radar team that could push UW to the end of the season for the crown.
After going 0-2 against USC last year, UW will be looking to rebound, literally.
USC 101: Everything you need to know about USC can be seen in our Pac-10 preview assessment. But the one player we did not give proper credit to was junior transfer, Jio Fontan. Fontan has three games under his belt this season and has hit the ground running averaging 16.3 ppg. He is leading the team in scoring in his first three games and is proving that he could be worthy of all Pac-10 honors. Fontan gives USC the backcourt presence they were missing with the departure of Dwight Lewis last year. Fontan struggled early on with his long range depth, but quickly worked those kinks out against Lehigh, going 4 for 4 from deep. Coupled with the post presence of Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson, USC now has a well balanced attack inside and out. Vucevic is really stepping up this year as he is averaging nearly a double-double with 15.3 ppg and 9.6 rpg. Vucevic will create plenty matchup problems for the Dawgs as he can stretch the floor with his perimter shooting and can beast in the post. UW will need to treat Vucevic as a very watered down Dirk Nowitzki in terms of how they will defend him. I would assume MBA will draw this assignment to allow Aziz to stay home in the paint to grab boards and protect the rim. Stepheson is their second leading rebounder at 8.6 rpg and is averaging near double figures each game at 9.8 ppg. Stephenson caused plenty fits for UW last year with second chance opportunities and will need to be kept in check. Freshman Maurice Jones has started his 2010 campaign with a bang averaging 11.3 ppg. Jones is quick scoring point guard who has the skills to give UW fits in a half court set. With his dribbling and quickness, Abdul Gaddy could have his hands full in keeping him from penetrating into the lane.
USC Starting Line Up:
PG – Maurice Jones, 5’7” – 11.3 ppg
SG – Jio Fontan, 6 – 16.3 ppg
SF – Marcus Simmons, 6’6” – 5.5 ppg
PF – Nikola Vucevic, 6’10” – 15.2 ppg
PF/C – Alex Stepheson, 6’10” – 9.8 ppg
UW Update: From the looks of things, Venoy Overton and Justin Holiday should be available for tomorrow. Neither player sounds like they are 100%, but will both be needed for this stretch of games in LA. Holiday will have to have a high threshold for pain as his strained foot could prove to hamper his agility. Overton told the Seattle Times that he is around 80% healed which could be even higher come game time on Wednesday. The defensive contributions of both players will be vital in helping to set the tempo of this game.
UW wins if they:
Win the battle of the boards: On paper, USC does not look like a strong rebounding team as they rank 183rd in the nation in grabbing boards. However, with their length at forward and history for garbage buckets, UW will need to box out their men to limit their second chance opportunities.
Press: At least 3/4 court pressure will be needed to help speed up the game. USC is a half court team and teams have had difficulties running on them as they always have a player getting back on defense after a missed shot. UW proved that USC couldn’t handle full court pressure toward the end of the game last year. They should deploy their pressure earlier this year to test the waters.
Get big production from their bench: UW’s depth should help run USC into the ground. USC runs an 8 man rotation. Should UW be successful in getting one of their bigs in foul trouble, USC lacks the bench depth down low to recover. SG Bryce Jones is the only player from their bench that contributes on a regular basis with 9.8 ppg.
Lock down Fontan: Jio will be a primary concern for Isaiah Thomas and Venoy Overton on Wednesday. They will need to pressure Fontan full court as he can hurt teams in the paint and from beyond the arc.
Force Turnovers: As a team, USC averages over 12 TO’s per game. As talented as Maurice Jones is, he does average 3 TO’s per game.
Game Prediction: With Holiday not being 100%, this could be a very tough game for UW. I predicted early in the season that this particular game would be one of the few losses for UW this year, and my opinion has not changed. My best guess is that USC controls the tempo of this game and wins with their half court execution and rebounding. USC wins 68-62. However, I would love to be proved wrong here. (And given this game will not be televised, I have a funny feeling UW may just pull it out. )