The Cougs have had a solid season to this point, but this upcoming road trip is their last chance to get some signature wins. USC is coming off a huge win against UCLA at home and they have a lot of momentum heading into this matchup. Both teams are hungry and this feels like a must-win for both squads.
The game tips off at 8 PM PST and can be watched on Fox Sports 1.
USC has been excellent offensively in conference play. They rank 2nd in the Pac-12 in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, thanks mostly to their efficient two-point scoring. They rank 2nd in the Pac-12 in two-point efficiency, which is odd because they don’t take a ton of layups. Instead, this team is chock full of elite mid-range scorers and they hunt those shots in isolation. The Trojans also play fast, ranking 5th in the conference offensive possession length and they do get a lot of good looks in transition. USC also does well in the possession game, ranking 2nd in the Pac in turnover rate and 4th in offensive rebound rate. USC’s main weakness is their outside shooting, as they rank 12th in the conference in three-point attempt rate and 10th in three-point percentage.
In their last meeting, WSU held the Trojans to 43.1% shooting from the floor and 15.8% from deep. The biggest key to WSU’s win in the last meeting was their defense on Boogie Ellis. The Cougs held Ellis to 12 points on 5-11 shooting and 0-4 from deep. Drew Peterson and Kobe Johnson both had solid scoring performances, but WSU was able to keep USC in the half-court and they forced more turnovers than assists.
In the last preview for USC, I broke down their chin actions and what their base offense looks like. For more on that, read here.
In the last couple of games, USC has gone away from chin to some extent, instead putting a major focus on isolations and pick-and-rolls for their top scorers. They like to get Ellis advantaged matchups on the perimeter to exploit and they trust him to create shots in one-on-one scenarios.
They also like to get Drew Peterson going in isolation, mostly in the mid-post area. Peterson is effective as both a scorer and distributor in these areas, so it will be interesting to see if WSU guards it straight up or if they bring help.
USC will take advantage of teams that switch like-sized screens too, looking to get the best matchup possible for their best players. Here, the Trojans single out Jaime Jaquez Jr as the guy they want guarding Ellis in isolation, so they bring his man in to set the screen and they get the switch they want.
USC also has a couple of pet actions they run to get the ball to advantaged spots. This is a double-cross set they run to get the ball to Ellis in the mid-post. From there, they have Peterson set the screen to either force a switch or force the opponent to give space to Ellis for a pull-up jumper.
Finally, USC will look to run whenever possible and WSU will need to constantly be beating them back to prevent easy layups. WSU has had their issues with turnovers and USC will have a field day if the Cougs are slow to get back on defense.
The Trojans have been a somewhat disappointing defense in conference play- 6th in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency- but they still rank 45th in the country in that same stat. They protect the rim better than any team in the Pac-12, as they are 1st in the conference in opponent two-point percentage at 38.5%. They are an intimidating rim-protecting team too, ranking 1st in block percentage in the conference as well. They also force a good number of turnovers thanks to their aggressive plugging, ranking 5th in the conference in opponent turnover rate. Their biggest issue defensively is that they allow a lot of good shots from deep. They only rank 5th in the conference in opponent three-point attempt rate, but teams are shooting 37.4% against them. Some of that might be bad luck, but just as much of it is that they tend to give up good shots to good shooters.
In their last meeting, USC’s base defense was a matchup zone. Since that game, they have changed up to a more traditional man-to-man coverage in the games since. They still run a lot of matchup zone and it is mostly dependent on whether or not there are defensive matchups that they want to avoid.
When they are in man-to-man, they are always looking to hard hedge their bigs. This is where the big gets out on the floor to prevent penetration, help comes to cover the roll, and then the big recovers back to his man.
Even in man-to-man, USC still likes to plug the floor a lot and prevent easy passes to big men. This often leaves shooters open, but it makes easy buckets at the rim much harder to come by.
Finally, USC is a poor defensive-rebounding team. In the last meeting between WSU and the Trojans, WSU got heavily out-rebounded, but there is still an opportunity for the Cougs to get some second chance points by exploiting USC’s poor box-outs and rebounding intensity.
Players to Watch
Boogie Ellis is one of the most electric shot-creators in the Pac-12 and he can take over games with his scoring ability. He is excellent at creating space off the dribble for jumpers and his ability to get hot in an instant is unmatched in the conference. Ellis the focal point of USC’s offense and they are constantly running plays to get him good shots.
Drew Peterson always seems like he goes off against WSU and his form of bucket-getting is specifically demoralizing because every shot he takes is so tough. He works well in the mid-range, hitting a ton of tough fadeaways and floaters. He also excels as a passer, creating a lot of threes for USC by passing out of doubles and finding shooters around the perimeter.
Tre White is one of the most interesting prospects on USC’s roster. The 6’7 wing is an excellent off-the-dribble shot-maker who is comfortable hitting pull-ups and step-backs going left or right. He is not an advanced off-ball shooter or a notable passer at this point, but his scoring is intriguing and he has moments where he can takeover the game as scorer.
Washington State Cougars
Players to Watch
Andrej Jakimovski has been awesome over the last three games, especially defensively. He has been the biggest reason for WSU holding teams below .90 points per possession over their last three games and he has excelled both as a wing-stopper and a help defender near the rim. He also had his all-time best-scoring game against Arizona State, putting up 22 points on 7-14 from the field and 5-10 from three. He also chipped in 7 rebounds and 3 assists without turning it over. Now that Jakimovski is healthy, he is arguably WSU’s most important player and he has fulfilled the preseason expectations set for him.
Justin Powell had a huge week against the Arizona schools in Beasley, scoring 15 on 6-11 shooting against Arizona and 20 on 7-14 shooting against ASU. The intriguing thing about those numbers was just how many of Powell’s shots came off the dribble. WSU has really lacked a go-to shot-maker this season, but Powell stepped up over their last couple of games, and hopefully, that will continue over the rest of the season. It is a major boost to WSU’s upside when Powell is generating looks off the bounce and it should help them when the going gets tough in close games.
Kymany Houinsou has had a bit of an up-and-down freshman season, but his ups are incredible. He had a stretch against Arizona State where he completely took over the game with his defense and driving ability. While the turnovers can be frustrating, the point-of-attack defense is elite and he can demoralize opponents with some huge dunks. WSU is at its best when Houinsou provides great bench minutes and he could be specifically useful at taking advantage of USC’s hard hedges by turning the corner and forcing help.
What to Watch For
Exploiting weak three-point defense is huge for WSU in this one. The Cougs shot 14-29 from deep in the last meeting between these two teams and it was the major reason WSU left that game with a huge upset. USC gives up a lot of open 3s and WSU is more equipped than any Pac-12 team to exploit that. WSU will need to move the ball quickly and knock down the open shots to have a good offensive performance in this one.
Slowing down runs is going to be huge for WSU in this one. USC has talent that can get hot in no time and WSU will have to contain their scorers consistently. Boogie Ellis, specifically, will be at the top of the scouting report for the Cougs, and making sure he gets no space to get shots off is key. Smothering Ellis on and off the ball, forcing him to make tough decisions, and getting into his handle is important to keep USC in check.
Question of the Game
Will WSU keep USC below .90 points per possession?