1. Why has USC been so inconsistent all year? How can a team lose to Rider, Bradley, and TCU while beating top teams like UCLA, Washington, and Texas?
Most of USC’s bad losses came before transfer guard Jio Fontan joined the squad. The Trojans have benefited greatly from his veteran presence on the court. Additionally, USC has struggled on the road and offensively. USC finished 5-8 on the road and that came after starting 1-5. Offensively, they don’t shoot the ball particularly well and were stagnant early in the year. Before Fontan showed up to energize the team, they passed the ball around the perimeter a lot and then had to take bad shots deep in the shot clock because they were in disarray.
2. What do you think is the best way to slow Nikola Vucevic? He’s been unstoppable, with the one exception in Pac-10 play against Cal.
Vucevic either needs to be double-teamed or denied the ball in the paint. Once he gets the ball down low, it is hard to prevent him from scoring because he has good touch near the rim. With a double-team, he will have to pass out of it and that will put the onus on the guards. The Trojans have good guards, but they have struggled with their shooting for most of the year. Vucevic can shoot the three, but it isn’t the ideal scenario. If a team can keep him out on the perimeter and make it difficult for entry passes, he won’t get his points. On offense, teams should have their guards attack Vucevic and get him in to foul trouble. His lateral movement could use improvement and going after him early would send him to the bench.
3. Marcus Simmons does almost nothing on offense, yet he’s one of the Trojans most important players. Can you try and quantify the defensive impact that Marcus Simmons has?
Marcus Simmons was named the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year because he has the ability to take a teams best scorer out of the game. Against Texas, the main reason they won is because star Jordan Hamilton was held 6 points below his season average on 4 of 13 shooting. When USC beat Washington State early in the year, Simmons limited Klay Thompson only shot 6-18. Occasionally stars reach their average against Simmons, but it is almost always at a lower percentage than their average.
4. Donte Smith absolutely lit up Cal the first time around from the 3 point line. He only shoots about 36% from beyond the arc. Is he really that good of a shooter, or he did he just have one really good night?
Smith is a very streaky shooter. There was a stretch during the year where it seemed he would not missed, but he has cooled off as of late. Donte has come out of nowhere to be a scorer for USC. He served as a backup his junior year and didn’t contribute very much. This year he has worked on his shot and it shows. That being said, it will be interesting to see if he finds his groove again because he can light it up when he is on.
5. How do you feel Maurice Jones has played this season? He’s turned it over a lot, but has also provided some scoring punch, especially against California. How do you feel that the freshman has done overall?
Maurice Jones has been phenomenal. The freshman led the Pac-10 in minutes player and got thrust right into the fray and handled it well. He turned the ball over a lot, but when you play as much as he did you are going to put up numbers in a lot of categories. His scoring has improved ever since he came off the bench because his legs are a lot fresher now. Jones would shoot at the end of games as a starter and you could see it was flat because he didn’t have any leg power. He is a thrill to watch because he is so shifty and quick that he fits through the tiniest windows with his ball handling skills.
6. Kevin O’Neill runs a tight bench, and USC has had only one win streak above 3 games. Do you think USC has the kind of depth and ability to make a run toward a Pac-10 tournament championship?
USC doesn’t have tremendous depth, but they have the ability to win the Pac-10 tournament. The minutes are being distributed a little more evenly now within the rotation and the players seem fresher. Before the surge, USC was playing terribly on Saturday’s, but they have found a new rhythm and that has helped. At this point, adrenaline will carry them through. They know they need to reach the finals to even be in serious consideration for the NCAA tournament.
7. What does USC need to do to beat Cal?
USC needs to bring their defensive intensity. Kevin O’Neill always stresses defense and they need to hold the Bears down because they aren’t built to win a game in the 70s. USC loves to grind out low scoring games and so they must make sure they keep the totals low. Also, USC’s offense feeds off of their defense. When they can get stops, their offense runs more smoothly.
8. What is your prediction for Thursday’s game?
USC beats Cal in a close one, maybe even the final possession. Down the stretch I think the veteran leadership will play a large factor. Cal is a talented team but they are very young and it will show.
USC, as he pointed out, likes to keep the tempo down and grind teams into the ground. When USC is playing at their best, the game is in the 60s. In my mind, the most important thing to the game is 3 point shooting on both sides. On one side, you have USC trying to break down what is likely going to be a Cal zone. The key to beating the zone is hitting perimeter shots, and USC has had problems from there. On the other side, it comes down to Allen Crabbe. He missed the loss to USC, and the team will badly need him to step up in this game.
KenPom prediction: 68-65 USC, 59% confidence
My take: This will be a very close, intense game that will come down to the final minutes. I have the Bears winning this game however. Cal matches up well with the Trojans, and played the Trojans to a 3 point game even without Crabbe. On a neutral court and with a well-rested and healthy Bear squad, I see Cal advancing.