Game Preview: USC


by: John Chase

There are 344 Division 1 Men’s Basketball teams in this nation. Keep this in mind when I read off the following stats. 341st in points per game (53.3). 343rd in rebounding (27.1). 337th in assists (9.5). 331st in field goal percentage (39.1%). That is where USC stands in the national picture.USC is a miserable 6-23 on the season and has barely avoided a shutout in conference play (1-15) by narrowly beating a nearly as terrible Utah team at home.

The only good thing USC has been able to do this season is play defense. Not the traditional in-your-face type of defense, but the mind-numbing slow down style of offense that makes me want to rip what little is left of Kevin O’Neil’s hair right out of his head.

To give you an idea on how slow this team plays I’ll read off another stat. The Trojans are 333rd in possessions per 40 minutes. The Huskies are 23rd. The Trojans will often give up rebounds on the offensive glass and free throws to run back into a prevent defense. This team does not play to win, heck they aren’t even playing not to lose, they are simply playing not to get decimated or injured anymore than has already happen.

I understand it. The team is down to just 6 scholarship players after 5 have suffered season-ending injuries. No one else wants to join that list and with over 20 losses on the record already, the motivation to try hard just isn’t there.

One might think that perhaps the Trojans would be able to draw fouls and get to the line. Perhaps there they could offset their terrible field goal percentage and make up some points through free throws. Nope. The Trojans are 343rd in free throw attempts and dead last (344) in free throws made.

There are only two categories in which the Trojans do not rank in the triple digits. Total Losses on the season where they are ranked at #19 and Field Goal Point Percentage (how many points their field goals account for out of their total points per game) at #9. Those are not stats one should be proud of. A good team likes to see a high percentage of points come from the field, but they also need point production behind the arc and at the charity stripe.

If you want to see more of how the Trojans have performed this season, click on this link. The Trojans make a strong case for being the worst team in D1 basketball. I feel sorry for the fall this team has taken. It is not their fault that injury has plagued them so badly.

The Trojans enter Thursday’s game on a 7 game losing streak, a streak that could have easily turned into 17 if not for the win versus Utah. 62 points is the high score for the Trojans in conference play. One resulting in a loss, the other was the win against Utah. Do not expect the Trojans to score. Do not expect the Trojans to play uptempo.

The Trojans have only allowed 5 opponents to score 70 or more in conference play (UW scored 69, so I included them). This is fairly impressive, but when you consider the Trojans average 10 less possessions per game than the Huskies, it is not difficult to see how they manage this task. UW is currently averaging a little under 1.2 points per possession. Multiply this by 10 and you have 12 additional points per game being missed out on. This is why teams like UW and California are not putting up 90 points on USC. It’s not that the Trojans are playing better defense, it’s that the Trojans burn clock like no tomorrow because they know they cannot win a high scoring game.

Maurice Jones has continued to be the backbone of this team. At 5-7, 155lb this is a burden too large for his shoulders. Jones has shown an ability to make shots on the perimeter, deeper than most guards, but his size and strength cause far too many issues for him to be effective inside the paint. The opposing guards are simply too big and strong for Jones to go one-on-one with, both offensively and defensively. In his last game, Jones was 4-13 from the field and 4-9 from outside the arc. A very nice shooting percentage from deep, but his inside game was a whopping 0-4. Jones leads the team in scoring, steals, assists, and turnovers per game (13.6, 1.7, 3.4, and 2.4 respectively).

Byron Wesley has been forced to really mature his game quickly with all of the injuries suffered this season. Against ASU, Wesley dropped in 22 points on 8-14 shooting, all of which came inside the paint (0-1 from the arc). He also shot a decent 6-10 from the foul line and was the only Trojan to attempt a free throw outside of reserve guard Greg Allen who attempted just a pair. Wesley is second in scoring among active players with 9.2 per game as well as leading in active rebounders with 5 per night. Wesley is second in assists and turnovers behind Jones. Wesley is a much tougher match-up than Jones as his stands at 6-5 210lb and is a much more typical shooting guard.

The only remaining big man on the Trojan roster is 7-1 260lb James Blascyzk. Sizewise, Blascyzk has the tools to be a great player and the only person capable of stopping Aziz N’Diaye inside. Overall, Blascyzk leaves much to be desired. He is averaging a miserable 3 points and 3 rebounds per game. For being 7-1 you would think he could at least attack the glass with some tenacity. Last game against UW, Blascyzk was held to 0-5 shooting and made just 1 point on a free throw. N’Diaye was able to consistantly body up Blascyzk and keep him from taking confortable shots.

Predicted Starting Line-Ups:

Maurice Jones 5-7 155lb
Alexis Moore 6-2 180lb
Byron Wesley 6-5 210lb
Garrett Jackson 6-6 225lb
James Blascyzk 7-1 260lb

Abdul Gaddy 6-3 185lb
Tony Wroten 6-5 205lb
Terrence Ross 6-6 195lb
Darnell Gant 6-8 230lb
Aziz N’Diaye 7-0 260lb

Keys to the Game:

  • Rebouding – We are one of the best in the nation. USC is among the worst. USC will miss a lot of shots and the limited possessions mean that every UW miss is critical. Recover the miss, put it back in for the easy bucket. Tony Wroten excels in this category and Terrence Ross was able to capitalize in the last match-up dragging in 14 rebounds. UW has much superior sizer and talent. In the last match-up UW raked in 49 rebounds (14 offensive) to USC’s 16 (3 offensive). We had nearly as many offensive boards as USC managed in total. Domination at its finest. The Huskies need to continue this trend to prevent any thoughts USC has of pulling a supreme upset.
  • Free Throws – This goes back to the limited possessions I talked about earlier. Less possessions means less points. The Dawgs will likely struggle to get a reasonable amount of attempts at the line so each and everyone will count. The Cougars showed how valuable free throws are by missing 6 of 20 in the second half, surrendering a 13 point lead to the Dawgs. Make your free throws. They win games. They are free. Collect yourself, run through your motion, and shoot. Simple. Each and everytime.
  • Find the Hot Hand – C.J. Wilcox was lights out against WSU. If not for the foul trouble encountered by Ross, I believe Wilcox would have continued his feiry streak. The Dawgs have several players who should be able to man-handle the Trojan defense: Wroten, Ross, Wilcox, and N’Diaye immediately jump to mind. All four are bigger and stronger than the guys they will be going up against. The Trojan zone screams for a 3-point showing we haven’t seen since the Maui Invitational  last year. If USC goes man-to-man, I’ll be thrilled. Our guards should be able to take their man off the dribble every possession.

Final Thought:

In many ways this is a trap game. The Trojans are horrendous and a much tougher match-up against UCLA is on the horizon. This should not be a problem as motivation will be high for this game. The Dawgs are still looking to claim an at-large bid and losing to USC will demolish that possibility.

The Dawgs are in sole possession of first place, a half-game up from Cal (thanks, Colorado)and control their own fate. If the Dawgs win against USC, they will claim at least a share of the regular season title. A sweep of the LA school will mean sole possession of the title and 15-3 record in conference, something that hasn’t been done at UW since 1984.

Motivation is high, the gears are finally starting to roll all at once, and the team is finally playing as one cohesive unit versus a group of 5 guys sharing the court. The Dawgs cannot let this one slip away from them. It is absolutely critical if they wish to establish themselves as a tournament worthy team.

If I am Romar, I want a 30 point win again. Do not let another ASU fiasco happen where we take a near 30 point lead and let it slip to 8 by the end of the game. By all means rest our guys, but if the lead starts slipping we need to put our stars in to bump it back up.

Final Score Prediction: UW-70 USC-44