3 PM PST -- Friel Court at Beasley Coliseum
Kenpom.com prediction: Cougs win 53-52 (56 possesions, 54 percent confidence)
Well, here we are -- badly in need of a win at home before two consecutive road trips. The great news is that USC is beatable.
A sound defensive performance today can definitely hamper USC, as the Trojans' offense has been the definition of inconsistent. In their last nine games, they've posted offensive efficienies of 88.3 (North Dakota State), 102.9 (Georgia Tech), 95.1 (Oral Roberts), 115.2 (Oregon), 93.9 (Oregon State), 107.0 (UCLA), 108.0 (ASU), 118.6 (Arizona), 95.7 (UW).
This will be a vastly different game than Thursday, at least when the Trojans have the ball. Where the Bruins have virtually no inside presence and live and die on the perimeter, USC does its damage in the post and taking it hard to the rack. Two-point field goals make up nearly 60 percent of the Trojans' points, 18th nationally. That means it's going to be a case of strength versus strength, as the inimitable pack defense has led the Cougs to second nationally and third in Pac-10 conference play in 2-point field goal defense.
The leader inside is Taj Gibson, an incredibly athletic big man who has given Aron Baynes fits over the past two years. He's long, extremely quick off the floor, and is USC's most efficient offensive players. He is an exceptional rebounder -- especially on the offensive end, where his OR% is 16.0, 17th nationally. He had seven offensive rebounds against the Huskies, and that's where he does a lot of his damage.
Unfortunately, he's precisely the kind of offensive rebounder that gives Baynes trouble, as he can go up and reach over him to tip missed shots back to himself. Baynes will have to be sound and not get frustrated today. This is a game where DeAngelo Casto could play a major role, especially if Baynes gets into any kind of foul trouble trying to contain Gibson.
The other leader for the Trojans on offense has been Dwight Lewis, but he missed the UW game on Thursday after spraining his ankle in practice earlier in the week. His status for today is unclear. If he doesn't play, point guard Daniel Hackett will once again pick up the slack. He had a nice scoring game against the Huskies, leading USC with 24 points, but is perhaps best known this year for holding ASU's James Harden to four points. He'll draw the assignment on Rochestie. He's a good all-around player, but he's got one major weakness: Although he leads the conference in assists, he'll turn the ball over -- a lot.
What strategy the Cougs will take in trying to score on the Trojans is anyone's guess. Besides the fact that this is Baynes' toughest matchup of the year from a physical standpoint, USC likes to defend the paint with a ferocity that's akin to WSU. Some have argued that the Trojans actually possess the conference's best defense.
However, outside shots will be there today, as the Trojans are pretty average at defending the 3. Can we hit some? If Klay Thompson and Rochestie can't get it going from outside, will Tony turn to Abe Lodwick and Daven Harmeling for big minutes? If there was any day for the Cougs to finally hit some outside shots, it's today.
There's a third factor to watch today. I hate to say it, but this truly is a game that is going to be heavily influenced by how it's officiated. I know we say it fairly often, but Baynes and Gibson hold such value to their teams in this one that if either one of them is taken out of this game early because of foul trouble, it's advantage other guys. Here's to hoping they let them play a little as they did on Thursday.