The Washington State Cougars will open up Pac-12 play on New Year's night against Southern California in a battle between a pair of programs hoping to get off to a strong start in their quests to move up the in the conference pecking order.
The game will tip off at 6 p.m. PT from Beasley Coliseum in Pullman and will be broadcast on Pac-12 Network, which means you also can watch the game at Pac-12.com, or listen to the WSU IMG radio broadcast via TuneIn.com.
Both Ernie Kent and USC coach Andy Enfield took on large rebuilding projects, but Enfield got a year's head start, and it's showing on the court: The Trojans are ranked No. 34 at kenpom.com after getting off to an 11-2 start. Their only blemishes? Losses to a really good Xavier and much-better-than-you-probably-think Monmouth. (That was in a tournament; the Trojans actually had beaten the Hawks at home earlier in the year.)
Enfield landed the USC job more than two years ago on the strength of his "Dunk City" run to the Sweet 16 as coach of Florida Gulf Coast, and his Trojans are finally resembling that style of play. They get up and down the floor in a hurry, they take care of the ball ... and yes, they dunk.
The other thing they do really well is shoot the ball from beyond the arc. They don't take a ton of shots from out there, but they make them at a 40 percent clip. As we noted yesterday, that's dangerous for WSU; the last two good-shooting teams the Cougars have faced -- Oklahoma and Northern Iowa -- have shot very well against them. Four players are shooting 38 percent or better from beyond the arc for USC, including Jordan McLaughlin and Katin Reinhardt, who are each shooting 45 percent.
In fact, the Trojans feature a balanced scoring attack in general, much like Enfield's FGCU teams. Six (!) different players are averaging double figures, and five different players use at least 20 percent of the possessions when they're on the floor.
It will be key for WSU to defend well in transition, something they did not do in the second half of getting blown out by Oklahoma. More than one third of USC's initial shot attempts come in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock, and their effective field goal percentage is a whopping 56 percent on those. The Trojans also are superb at getting second chances.
A fascinating thing about USC is that they don't necessarily want a track meet -- while the Trojans definitely want to run on offense, their defense is actually pretty staunch in the half court. That's not necessarily bad news for WSU, which is playing much slower this year, anyway.
The Trojans are basically WSU's defense -- invite 2-point attempts and then block them -- except better. Given that the strength of the WSU offense is its ability inside the arc, it's going to be interesting to see what the Cougars can accomplish.
Oh, and USC doesn't give up a lot of free throw attempts. Prepare yourself for another 2.5-to-1 USC-to-WSU ratio of free throws.