The Washington State Cougars have finally wrapped up non-conference play and face their toughest test of the season when the USC Trojans come to town on Thursday night (7:30 pm PT, Pac-12 Network). USC has won the last six meetings between the schools, dating back to WSU’s last victory in 2015.
If you are looking to follow the action, the WSU basketball Twitter account has got you covered with TV, radio, stream, and stats info:
USC emerged 11-2 from non-conference play with a recent win over LSU as the key prize from that stretch. The Trojans are led by freshman and future 2020 NBA lottery pick Onyeka Okongwu, who is expected to return to the court after missing Sunday’s Florida Gulf Coast matchup with a right ankle sprain.
Okongwu is an athletic 6’9, 245-pound force on the interior. He takes nearly two-thirds of his shots at the rim, and rarely ventures outside for a look. He is among the top 100 nationally in offensive rebounding percentage, grabbing 12 percent of his own team’s misses. He also blocks 12 percent of opponents’ two-point attempts, good for 17th nationally.
Flanking Okongwu in USC’s frontcourt is 6’11 senior Nick Rakocevic. He also takes the majority of his shots at the rim, but has been less efficient in converting those opportunities. Rakocevic will stretch into the midrange and occasional three-point shot. Like Okongwu, he is a force on the offensive glass.
The combination of those two, along with 6’10 Isaiah Mobley rotating off the bench, will give Washington State fits on the inside. The Cougs have largely been good at the defensive glass, but teams with size have been able to break through and snag extra chances. No team WSU has faced can match USC’s combination of size, athleticism, and nose for offensive rebounds.
Southern Cal uses the offensive glass to make up for its turnover issues on offense. The USC doesn’t give it away through errant passes and offensive fouls often—the Trojans are top 100 in non-steal turnover percentage. However, USC opponents have feasted on steals at one of the highest rates in the country.
WSU’s defense has been at its best when it is jumping passing lanes, which leads to WSU’s offense being at its best on the break. Attacking that USC weakness, the most glaring on offense, will help the Cougs on both ends of the floor.
When WSU has the ball in the halfcourt, it may be tough sledding. USC has been prone to allow high three-point percentages and a high volume of three-point attempts, but the Cougs have yet to show they can light anyone up from long range.
It may be necessary this time around, though, because USC allows the 28th-lowest field goal percentage inside the arc, and blocks the 28th-highest percentage of shots. Isaac Bonton, CJ Elleby, Aljaz Kunc, and friends will likely to need to knock down their open 3s to give the Cougs a chance to win.
As tough as that sounds, this isn’t some long shot game—KenPom gives WSU a 38 percent chance to win with an average score of 75-72 is favor of the Trojans. Win the turnover battle, hold up reasonably well on the glass, knock down a few extra 3s, and the Cougs could walk away from their Pac-12 opener with a 1-0 record.