The Washington State Cougars, men’s basketball version, visit the USC Trojans on Saturday night in the Galen Center (6:30 pm PT, Pac-12 Networks). The Cougs are hoping to salvage a road split after a disastrous outing at UCLA on Thursday. The Trojans have won their last four conference games.
Let’s look at the players and trends that will impact WSU vs. USC.
When USC has the ball...
Much like the UCLA team that WSU just faced, USC spreads out scoring opportunities across all players on the floor. The Trojans don’t have one or two players that dominate usage—freshman big Evan Mobley leads starters by using just 22.4 percent of possessions (for reference, Isaac Bonton leads the Cougs by using 31 percent of possessions while he is on the floor. Usage measures when the possession ends with a player—by shot, free throw, or turnover).
Opposing teams may be fortunate that the 7-foot Evan Mobley doesn’t take more shots—and we have to use his first name again because he is joined in the frontcourt by his 6’10 older brother Isaiah Mobley. Both are relentless offensive rebounders, and both will stretch out to the 3-point line.
Evan Mobley is the more efficient scorer—he hits 71 percent of his shots at the rim, but also is effective in the midrange and has even knocked down 6 of 16 from deep.
The two brothers combine to draw 10 fouls in every 40 minutes of action, and you can add 6’7 wing Isaiah White to the foul-drawing party. He absorbs 5.5 fouls per 40 and takes three free throws for every four field goal attempts.
As you might gather, the Trojans put a lot of pressure on teams inside the arc. They rank 294th in three-point attempts per field goal attempts, and they are perfectly fine with that—USC has knocked down 54 percent of its 2-pointers. Much of that comes in the midrange, where the Trojans rank 8th nationally by hitting 47 percent on shots defined as 2-point jumpers (this can include shots like floaters and runners).
Guard Tahj Eaddy rules the midrange for USC, hitting on nearly 58 percent of 2-point jumpers. However, he is most likely to launch from deep, where he takes over half of his attempts and hits about a third of those.
USC lacks a true distributing point guard, but 6’8 wing Drew Peterson has been the most likely to penetrate and dish. He leads the team in assist rate but is also a talented scorer himself. He hits on about 63 percent of his shots at the rim while also shooting 45 percent on 3-pointers.
Off the bench, Noah Baumann is gonna patrol the outside—40 of his 55 field goal attempts have come from beyond the arc.
Overall, the Trojans beat teams offensively with aggression, and it helps to have a big and talented squad to boot. WSU’s bigs will face a major challenge in protecting the rim without fouling, while WSU’s guards will have to contend with versatile, long, and athletic offensive players.
This is another test in what the Cougs pride themselves most on defensively—forcing tough shots and cleaning up the misses. That faltered against UCLA in the face of a deep roster of scoring threats, and WSU will need to get back on track defensively if they are to have a chance against the Trojans.
When WSU has the ball...
The length that makes USC so tough to defend also makes it even tougher to score against. The Trojans rank second nationally in 2-point defense (39 percent), including allowing just over 47 percent at the rim (6th-best). Evan Mobley blocks 10 percent of 2-point shots while he's on the floor—and he has a knack for ending possessions with those blocks. Just 11 percent of his blocked shots result in an offensive rebound.
USC will pack it in with stout interior defense. This leads teams to pass around and hunt jumpers. Opposing teams take just 30 percent of their shots at the rim but assist on field goals at a high rate—55 percent of made shots.
Despite all the size, USC has been susceptible to offensive rebounds. They also don’t force many turnovers. Taking care of the ball, getting as many shots up as possible, and crashing the glass should be WSU’s best formula. Of course, making a bunch of 3s always helps too.
The Bottom Line
USC looks like a second-weekend NCAA tournament team. They are big, athletic, and balanced. Evan Mobley is the headliner and potential No. 1 pick, but many talented scorers and defenders are around him.
KenPom predicts USC to win in 91 percent of simulations, with an average score of 72-57. Beating the Trojans, particularly on the road, would take a special effort from the Cougs. They will have to defend and rebound out of their minds, and they will have to make jumpers at a high clip. That’s a lot to ask, but that’s what is always going to be needed when facing teams of USC’s depth and caliber.