Cal Basketball vs. USC: Preview

In future news, Maurice Jones will be unable to play in the Pac-12 tournament due to carpal tunnel syndrome brought on by repetitive stress on the basketball court.

While you nervously wait for the Holiday Bowl to start, distract yourself from the terror with a little basketball - it's almost time for conference play to start!

Water boarding. Iron Maiden. Cat-o-nine-tails. All valid forms of torture, all roughly on par with watching USC play basketball.

Don't get me wrong - I can derive a certain level of enjoyment out of teams that slow the ball down and play suffocating man-to-man defense. Tony Bennett's Washington State teams were great to watch to see that style run to perfection. But USC doesn't run that style to perfection. Their offense is horrible but their defense is excellent, which means games frequently devolve into bruising slop-fests in which games can be won with just 40something points.

You might recall that the Trojans beat Cal twice last year, including a painful loss in the Pac-10 tournament that extinguished whatever slim hope Cal had of reaching the NCAA tournament. The good news is that the only player USC has back that you might remember is Maurice Jones. Nikola Vucevic, Alex Stephenson, Donte Smith, Marcus Simmons, Gio Fontan? Gone, gone, gone, gone, injured. If Little Romeo were still on the team he might actually have a shot at some minutes!

As usual, Kevin O'Neill has filled the holes by playing a few players a ton of minutes, and with JC transfers who are sure to leave him with a roster crunch sooner or later. Some thoughts on those players and the usual stat chart after the jump.

As mentioned above, it all starts with point guard Maurice Jones, and just as a reminder: He plays a higher percentage of available minutes than any player in the nation. Barring a blow-out he will be on the court for 40 minutes Thursday night. And he also is USC's highest usage offensive player, which is . . . perhaps not great for USC. Don't get me wrong, Jones is a good point guard, but he's not shooting especially well from anywhere (even the free throw line). Jones is much better off playing a complimentary role to a player like Nikola Vucevic, but because USC is so thin he's being forced to try to do everything, and it isn't really working.

If I'm Monty I'd put Cobbs on Jones as much as possible - Jorge is a great defender, but I think Cobbs' speed matches up better. In any case, merely slowing down Jones is enough to cripple USC's offense, because there just isn't much left to pick up the slack.

Forward Aaron Fuller, a transfer from Iowa, has generally been USC's best 2nd option and he has easily been the most efficient scorer for the Trojans. The other hypothetical threat is Dewayne Dedmon, the latest JC recruit to be absurdly overhyped by O'Neill. Dedmon appears to be a reasonably useful post player - he rebounds and defends the rim the way a 7'0'' player should - but he is still foul prone and his offensive game is raw. If Richard Solomon is healthy and playing it will be fun watching the two big men tangle inside.

Kenpom says: Cal 63, USC 50, 91% confidence

Category

Cal Rank

USC Rank

Advantage

Cal eFG% v. USC Def eFG%

63

81

C

Cal Def eFG% v. USC eFG%

37

243

CCC

Cal TO% v. USC Def TO%

66

11

U

Cal Def TO% v. USC TO%

244

169

U

Cal OReb% v. USC DReb%

126

215

C

Cal DReb% v. USC OReb%

11

227

CCC

Cal FTR v. USC Opp FTR

195

129

U

Cal Opp FTR v. USC FTR

5

238

CCC

Cal AdjO v. USC AdjD

33

35

-

Cal AdjD v. USC AdjO

17

248

CCC

There are two areas that USC really misses Nikola Vucevic: Defensive rebounding, and offense generally. In many ways USC's defense is just as good if not better than last year's defense - they force bad shots and they force lots of turnovers. But they don't have Vucevic (and Alex Stephenson) in the middle sucking up every miss, and that's responsible for a slight downtick in defensive production.

But they really miss him on offense. He was a great shooter, he drew tons of fouls, he never turned the ball over and he grabbed a decent share of offensive rebounds . . . which is a long way of saying he did everything, and USC hasn't come close to replacing that production.

Until they do, teams will have the advantage on the glass and USC will continue to have trouble scoring points against defenses that are halfway functional. Cal's defense easily clears that very low threshold, and it means that this game should be a safe win at home, even if Solomon is unable to go.

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