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NCAA Basketball: UCLA at Washington State

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What to Watch For: Previewing WSU vs USC

Kicking off the New Year with some Coug Basketball

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Washington State had an impressive performance against UCLA, but they fell slightly short. Now, they play a team much closer to their level in what is almost a must-win game if the Cougs hope to finish in the top half of the Pac-12. The Trojans are by no means a bad team, but they fall in the mid-tier of the Pac-12 alongside teams like Colorado, Utah, Oregon, and- hopefully- WSU.

The game tips off at Noon PST and can be watched on the Pac-12 Network.

USC Trojans


USC is a mediocre offense that is boosted by the shot-making of their two lead scorers, and they rank 78th in Kenpom’s Adjusted Offensive Efficiency. USC’s greatest strengths are their transition efficiency and ability to get to the line. They rank 58th in free throw rate and 97th in two-point efficiency, with a lot of those numbers coming as a result of their 94th overall ranking in average possession length. They have some major struggles on offense that can be exploited, though. They rank 280th in turnover rate, 307th in three-point rate, and 172nd in three-point efficiency. Teams can plug the lane on USC because they struggle to hit shots from deep and they are forced to make contested passes in the congested areas.

USC operates a lot of their offense out of the Princeton Chin. This is just as much a spacing concept as it is an actual play, but it is all about having four players around the perimeter and one on the elbow, with lots of cutting and ball-screens operated out of this.

This is a good example of a chin sets that then leads to a middle ball-screen. The first passer cuts through, the wing passes once again, and then the big rises from the high-post to set the screen.

This is a creative set out of chin, taking advantage of the exchanges that usually happen and adding a flare screen to get an open look from deep.

The chin sets allow for consistent spacing on wing ball-screens. Notice how there are always two people on the opposite wing of the screen and one player sitting behind screen. This flattens playmaking reads and leads to a lot of consistency.

The only time USC tends to clear out a side is when they run an isolation play. They have two or three guys who can create good shots out of isolation sets so it is not bad offense for the Trojans.

Finally, the Trojans are going to look to run whenever they force turnovers. They are not elite at forcing turnovers, but they are excellent at converting those opportunities into buckets.

USC has a lot of great passers and athletes, which makes transition games easier to convert.


USC is an above-average defense, as they have always been under Andy Enfield. They rank 52nd in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency and it is mostly as a result of their incredible rim-protection. They rank 16th in opponent effective field goal percentage, 4th in opponent two-point percentage, and 10th in block percentage. They are not a great turnover forcing team- 164th in turnover percentage, but they are better at forcing live-ball turnovers- 100th in steal rate. They do give up a lot of threes and rebounds, which is big for WSU. They rank 307th in defensive rebound rate and 169th in opponent three-point rate. WSU will have a good chance to win the possession game and get open looks from three in this game.

USC’s set defense is a matchup zone. They like to force team to pass and make reads, while also being able to collapse into the post and on drivers at a moments’ notice.

This zone tends to be tight and below the three-point line, with lots of help defense to stop drives. This leaves a lot of opportunities for open shots from deep.

The Trojans are also a poor defensive rebounding as a result of the zone. Zones often allow bigs to sit low in the dunker spot or get below the big near the rim, which opens up a lot of opportunities for opponents to get on the glass.

USC will occasionally man-up, but they tend to still keep zone principles. Specifically, they keep their big deep down in the paint and attempt to stop drives. The Trojans are athletic and their rim-protection is great because of their devotion to dropping deep toward the rim.

Players to Watch

Boogie Ellis is a 6’3 senior guard and one of the best players in the conference. He is an amazing scorer who can get to the rim and finish as well as hitting tough shots from deep. He is averaging 16.4 points this season on 57.1% true shooting. Coug fans likely remember his game winning shot over Ty Roberts last season.

Drew Peterson is USC’s de facto point guard; he also happens to be 6’9. His craft is impeccable at his size, with excellent playmaking instincts. He hits some frankly insane shots in the mid-range and he can get going as both a scorer and a passer.

Kobe Johnson is one of the best wing defenders in the conference and he seems poised to exploit WSU’s turnover issues. He has a 5.5% steal rate, a 2.9% block rate, and he is also a great passer from the wing spot. His two-way playmaking also makes him an interesting potential NBA prospect going forward.

Washington State Cougars

Players to Watch

TJ Bamba had a quiet scoring game against the Bruins, but his impact was felt defensively and that will need to be the case again against the Trojans. Bamba will be the primary defensive matchup on Ellis and he will need to prevent him from getting going as a scorer. Bamba’s defense is vital to this team’s success and that makes him important even though this isn’t a particularly advantageous offense matchup.

Mouhamed Gueye was two rebounds and two points away from a big beef -a 20-point, 20-rebound game- against UCLA and he will need to be that level of rebounder and scorer again today. He is likely the best rebounder in this game and his post-scoring has been solid so far in Pac-12 play. He has to be a go-to guy for WSU on both ends for the Cougs to win games like this.

DJ Rodman had the game of his life against UCLA, putting up an impressive 19 points on 70% shooting- 66.6% from three- on mostly self-created looks. This obviously won’t be the norm for Rodman, but getting to a point where he is a consistent threat from deep and his growth as someone who can attack of the dribble feels somewhat sustainable. His defense has also been elite down the stretch, as he is a still a charge taking machine and he has improved this team’s rim-protection with his help defense.

What to Watch For:

Stopping penetration is the only way the Cougs can beat USC. USC is not a good shooting team and they don’t score a ton in the post, but they have a few guys who can get to the rim despite that lack of spacing. Bamba, Rodman, Andrej Jakimovski, and Kymany Houinsou will all be asked to guard good scorers and they will need to keep them from getting two-feet in the paint consistently.

Winning on the glass is something the Cougs should be able to do in this game, as USC is a poor rebounding team and WSU is an excellent one. Even if both teams have similar efficiency and WSU has some turnover issues, the Cougs can still win the possession game. Offensive rebounds also tend to result in efficient shots and the Cougs could absolutely score upwards of 12-15 points off of rebounds.

Question of the Game:

Will WSU hold USC below .98 points per possession?

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