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NCAA Basketball: Wooden Legacy-Southern California vs San Diego State Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

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What to Watch For: Scouting WSU vs. No. 20 USC

The Cougs face their first top 25 ranked team of the season at home, and they could upset the red hot Trojans.

The Cougs are set to host their first conference game, against USC, after an impressive victory against ASU on the road. WSU hopes to ride the momentum of that game into a battle against the 20th-ranked team in the country.

Tip off is set for 3 p.m. PT, with the broadcast on Pac-12 Network and Pac-12.com (with a subscription).

The Trojans are off to an impressive 6-0 start, and they are firing at all cylinders on both ends. Their defense is stifling, with a lot of size and athleticism that makes teams uncomfortable. The Trojans’ offense keeps pace with their defense, playing up-tempo off turnovers and playing through a few stars in the half-court.

Arizona State Sun Devils

Offense:

2021-22 USC Synergy Offensive Efficiency

The USC offense is sneaky, but dangerous. They play fast when they can, leaking out in transition to get open looks, but in the half-court they run sets to get certain looks in specific spots. They can beat you in the post or stretch you out from deep with a few really potent shooters. They rely on their size to create looks and Andy Enfield runs a competent scheme that covers up a lot of their weaknesses.

USC is not full of reliable shooters or perimeter creators, so they will set run plays to get their playmakers free and bring attention away from their lack of spacing. Here, they run Boogie Ellis off of a pindown, into a dribble handoff, and then into a pick-and-roll. This amount of action keeps the defense occupied and works as it’s own form of spacing, leveraging Ellis’s gravity to keep opposing bigs from standing still in the paint.

USC has quite a few players who are always looking to post-up, depending on the action run prior to the post-up, and it can lead to varying levels of room for the post to work with. Here, they get a good look with a clear-out on the post side and a dummy action run away from the ball to keep the defense occupied.

Here, the spacing is poor and Utah gets good contests on the post. USC struggles with spacing when playing in the half-court and WSU should be able to take advantage with their rim protectors because of that.

USC does lack consistent playmakers, but they will still run some high pick-and-roll when they have an advantaged matchup. Drew Peterson is a guy they really like to get pick-and-roll reps. He is a killer in the mid-range who has a knack for getting to those shots and he is a solid passer out of these scenarios as well.

Defense:

2021-22 USC Synergy Defensive Efficiency

The Trojans’ defense is one of the best in the country. They are very long, very athletic, and their activity level jumps off the screen when you watch them. They don’t have big, bruising posts like they used to and this allows them to run a more coverage versatile scheme with the goal of making ball-handlers uncomfortable and forcing turnovers.

The length on this Trojans roster is really special and they use it exceptionally well. They make dribble drives really difficult and they even make simple dribble moves hard to execute. They can simply make offensive possessions a grind by preventing any sort of advantage at the point of attack.

They ice most drag screens to try and force the ball into the deep corner and prevent rotations. USC is content to make ball-handlers try and beat them one-on-one because so few can successfully do that. Preventing offenses from creating advantages and forcing the defense to rotate makes opposing offenses rely on tough-shot making to win their possessions. The Cougs will have to hit some tough shots to compete with the Trojans.

USC really likes to force turnovers and get out on the break. They take really great advantage of inexact spacing by playing hard at the nail. The nail is where a defender tends to stand when guarding a player on the wing or above the break and it allows for the defender to dig on ball-handlers as they try to drive middle.

Players to Watch:

Boogie Ellis is the Trojans’ leading scorer and probably their most important player. Ellis can really shoot the ball and they will run a lot of actions for him to get shots from deep. The Memphis transfer is also a good defender and one of USC’s go-to shot-makers in the touch.

Isaiah Mobley is USC’s best big and he does a lot for them on both ends. He is a threat to score in the post, from three, or attacking from the perimeter like a wing. He can also pass on the move and that gives USC a lot of versatility offensively.

Drew Peterson is a do-it-all wing who the Trojans really rely on to maintain competency on the offensive end. He is the player who runs the most pick-and-rolls and he also likes to work in the post. He can hit spot-ups too, making him a truly multi-faceted wing. The Cougs will have to play around to find the right guy to guard him.

Max Agbonkpolo is an athletic wing who is mostly noted for his defense and cutting. He can finish above the rim with ease and the Trojans like to run actions for him to get some easy baseline cuts. Agbonkpolo also tends to guard the best opposing player, so expect to see him on Noah Williams for long stretches.

Washington State Cougars

Players to Watch:

Dishon Jackson has started to find his rhythm on offense over the past two games, and USC is an opponent that Jackson is certainly relishing. The Trojans have physical bigs, but ones that Jackson can still outmatch. They won’t crumble the second Jackson puts a shoulder down and this will allow him to play to his strengths. Jackson could have his first big game of the season in Beasley.

Tyrell Roberts is still a bit of an enigma for the Cougs. He has had moments where the shot is really falling and he punishes teams with his pull-up, but when he isn’t shooting, he struggles to provide a lot of value. WSU plays him because his shooting and ball-handling helps make-up for the deficiencies caused by playing two bigs, but if Noah Williams is shooting, Roberts’ importance in the rotation might be lessened. It will be interesting to see if that rotational shift begins to happen against the superior size of USC.

DJ Rodman is a player who is due for some progression to the mean when it comes to shooting and the Cougs might need to play him for his defense. Rodman makes a lot of sense as the matchup on Drew Peterson and, if the shot is falling, Rodman could come up huge for WSU.

What to Watch For:

The Cougs might struggle to run their two-guard set for long stretches against the size and athleticism of USC and how quickly Kyle Smith adjusts could be the difference between a win and a loss. Expect Rodman, Andrej Jakimovski, and TJ Bamba to all potentially take a boost in minutes to match with the Trojans’ wings.

Feeding the post has been a consistent source of offense for the Cougs throughout the season and they will need to continue that against USC. Offense might be hard to come by in this game and Jackson post-ups might be the most consistent advantage the Cougs have. Forcing the issue there and forcing USC to adjust is a huge key to victory.

Forcing shooters to drive is a strategy that was really effective against ASU. USC has less competent shooters than most Pac-12 teams and this should allow WSU to continue this strategy and funnel shooters into our shot blockers. Keeping up the defensive intensity is the most important thing the Cougs can do to win this game.

Question of the Game:

Can the Cougs hold USC below 45 points?

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