WSU Vs. USC: A First Look At The Trojans

Washington State looks to rebound from a disappointing loss to ASU last Saturday when they host Southern Cal at 7:05 pm on Friel Court. The game will not be televised, but can be seen through a live webcast from the Cougars All-Access subscription service on WSUCougars.com. This appears to be the last of the webcasts for this season, as WSU's remaining four home games are scheduled for TV.

The Cougars received some bad news this week as Faisal Aden's injury turned out to be as bad as it looked. Aden tore his ACL while attempting a layup last Thursday against Arizona. WSU will have to go through the rest of the season with a tighter rotation at guard, and Bone will have to find a way to make up for Faisal's recent spike in efficient production. The Cougs did perform well in a three game stretch without Aden in non-conference play, but the competition was not quite as strong. The adjustments made going forward will be interesting to monitor.

USC has suffered a number of major injuries this season and have struggled mightily. The Trojans lost their first eight conference games before defeating Utah at home last weekend. Interestingly, they easily defeated the two teams that gave WSU their worst losses of the year, also defeating UC Riverside on the road 56-35.

For the second-straight game, WSU gets an opponent that will do its best to slow down the pace. USC ranks 331st in the country in adjusted tempo, using about five less possessions per game than an average NCAA team. There won't be many fastbreaks, and probably not much total scoring tonight.

Offense and Defense previews after the jump.

OFFENSE

Coug fans are well aware of the struggles their team has had on defense throughout conference play. USC is the mirror opposite of that, as they have been the worst offense in the league during Pac-12 play. If you look closely, you may see a pillow fight under USC's basket at some point in this game.

The Trojan offense is led by 5-7 guard Maurice Jones. He has played almost 95% of the available minutes this season, third most in the country. In a 40 minute game, that comes out to 36 minutes. Jones uses 28% of the possessions while he is on the floor (which is all the time) and he has been far from efficient. He has posted just a 41.1 eFG% and has an 89.1 offensive rating.

Jones represents the USC offense pretty well as a whole, as the Trojans are 322nd in eFG%, 316th in free throw rate, 327th in three point percentage, and 328th in free throw percentage. The only thing Southern Cal does reasonably well on offense is take care of the basketball. They turn it over on just 19% of possessions, good for 89th.

The only player that had been performing above average on offense this season for USC was Aaron Fuller. He was lost to a shoulder injury two weeks ago. The next most efficient guy has been 7-footer Dewayne Dedmon, who has been exactly average with a 100 offensive rating. He makes 56% of his twos, but has a surprisingly low free throw rate for a man of his size.

USC's offense is liable to make even the WSU defense look good, and with seven scholarship players they are going to be playing with tired legs. They won't turn the ball over much, especially against a Cougar team that doesn't force many. The zone seems like a perfect solution for the Trojans, as it can enable the Cougars to limit the threat of Dedmon down low. Forcing them into jump shots should prove to be beneficial (commence them making every three in the first half).

DEFENSE

Kevin O'Neill is a defensive-minded coach and his team's abilities on that end have saved them from being Utah-level bad this season. However, USC's nightmare start in the Pac-12 shows that defense can't always win ball games, and is prone to variance just like offense.

The Trojans are giving up almost a point per possession during league play. That is something that WSU fans dream of, but for Southern Cal, who is trying to make up for an atrocious offense, it has not been enough. The loss of CougCenter favorite Nikola Vucevic to the NBA is felt just as much, if not more, on the defensive end than it has been on offense.

USC was the second best defensive rebounding team in conference play a season ago. This year they are dead last. They've also had trouble defending the lane, as they are 11th in block percentage and 9th in two point percentage. These are all areas in which Vucevic excelled, and Dedmon has not the same presence in the paint.

Surprisingly for a slow-paced team, Southern Cal has relied heavily on turnovers for defensive efficiency. USC is the best in the Pac-12 at forcing turnovers and 8th in the nation. They get their fair share of steals, with the third highest steal% in conference play, but they turn the opponent over through charges and bad passes as well. The Cougs will likely give the ball away frequently tonight.

Brock Motum faced a pair of 7-footers last week and had a career night. He'll have his shot at another one tonight. His quick first step gives him an advantage against larger, slower defenders. If he can avoid mistakes, he could be in for another nice game.

Turnovers will likely be a huge factor on both ends. USC won't give it away much and WSU will. The Cougars have the significant advantage in shooting and free throw rate. Will that be enough to give them the victory?

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