Cal Men's Basketball at USC Preview

Time to step up, young fella. - USA TODAY Sports

Let's face it: on the tougher road trips in the Pac-12, you're hoping to split. Before the season began, this game was circled on the calendar because of the presumptive long odds of stealing one at Pauley Pavilion. If we were truly upper echelon contenders, then this is a game we had to win to maximize our chances of a favorable post-season slate. Fast forward to today and thinking about the post-season is completely off the menu. We just need a win and we need to play better basketball while seizing it.

Although Lute Olson disciple Kevin O'Neill has hardly been the savior to anyone besides the hotel bar, his teams always seem to provide a tough out for our Cal squads. He's a defensive-minded coach whose teams tend to make the game physical and ugly in hopes of stealing one at the end. "Homely" might be generous to describe the Trojan offense. (280th nationally in scoring/12th in the Pac-12, 243rd nationally in FG%, 11th in the Pac-12) What's surprising is that their normally stingy defense has also been less than stellar.(110th nationally in points allowed/12th in the Pac-12, 114th nationally in FG% defense/11th in the Pac-12)

Far be it from us to make a mercenary joke at USC's expense, but it's worth noting that the Trojans feature ten transfers on their roster, including five new players brought in this past year.

Early on, the rent-a-jock strategy didn't seem to be paying off as USC limped to an 5-8 record. Perhaps the influx of borrowed talent simply hadn't jelled yet. Surely their starting backcourt wouldn't continue to shoot a blistering 29% from the field? It's also fair to note that a brutal early schedule (24th toughest in the nation) did them no favors.

With their backcourt struggling to provide consistent perimeter scoring, the Trojans have been forced to rely on Brute Squad basketball featuring a trio of seven footers. Good thing there are plenty of pituitary specialists in SoCal.

Even so, storming the castle at Troy just never seems to be an easy affair. They're not a good team on paper, but you still have to go in there and beat them.

Stanford clearly didn't do their reading...or expected someone else to do their homework for them. After letting the Trojans scrap their way back from a nine point second half deficit, the Cardinal missed a free throw and a dunk at the buzzer to hand USC a 1-0 conference record.

As tempting as it is to laugh at Stanford's misfortune, we're next up in the arena. The second half of a conference road trip is always tough on the legs, especially when you're only going six deep. Considering that injuries and depth issues forced Monty to ride his starters for heavy minutes against the Bruins, you have to wonder if our guys have enough left in the tank to pull this one out.


Starters:

C Dewayne Dedmon(Jr), 7'0, 255 lbs, 5.7 ppg, 7.1 rpg
F Aaron Fuller(Sr), 6'6, 235 lbs, 3.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg
F Eric Wise(Sr), 6'6, 240 lbs, 11.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg
G Byron Wesley(So), 6'5, 210 lbs, 8.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg
G Jio Fontan(Sr), 6'0, 175 lbs, 8.2 ppg, 5.3 apg

Bench:

G J.T. Terrell(Jr), 6'3, 185 lbs, 9.3 ppg,
C Omar Oraby(Jr), 7'2, 270 lbs, 8.0 ppg, 4.2 rpg
C James Blascyzk(Sr), 7'1, 260 lbs, 2.3 ppg, 1.5 rpg

Jio Fontan was supposed to be the Trojans star last year before a season-ending knee injury. He's back, but has yet to return to form. Although he's been a good distributor, his shot just hasn't been falling for him. Byron Wesley was moved into the starting lineup because J.T. Terrell couldn't throw a rock into the ocean. He might be out or limited due to back spasms. Dewayne Dedmon is more of a defense and boards specialist. Eric Wise has been their best all-around player and most consistent scoring threat. Aaron Fuller used to come off the bench, but was recently inserted into the starting lineup after winning their game against Dayton at the buzzer. He's not tall, but he's very strong and has a good shooting touch for a big man. Omar Oraby doesn't offer the same presence on the glass as Dedmon, but he's a load inside and more of a scoring threat.

Keys to the Game:

1) Nothing easy.

The Trojans just haven't been a good offensive team. Force them to run their half court sets, play good position, don't give up second chances, and take your chances. I think we've established that turning it over, jumping at shooters, gambling in the passing lanes, and giving up offensive putbacks just isn't a winning strategy for us. I really don't want to be the team that helps their previously struggling guards to wake up.

2) Trust the offense.

We're still disjointed with our decision making. I have no problems with opportunistically running if we have an advantage. But forcing shots and pressing the action when we have such a short bench can be disastrous. We almost need to take a page from a mid-major's book and slow things down. We're just not talented or deep enough to get away with poor shot selection. Run our sets, move without the ball, and take good shots within the flow of the offense. At some point, all those four footers and open threes have got to start falling, right? Right?

3) The Bear will not quit.

As discouraging as the scoreboard was on Thursday, it was still heartening to see guys diving on the floor for balls or battling it out underneath. For Solo and Kravish to both log double digit rebounds was a step in the right direction. Yes, it would help if we played smarter. But giving good effort and playing harder is a start. This team hasn't given up, and neither should its fans.

Go Bears!

Game Time: Saturday, 1/5, 8pm(PST)
TV: Fox Sports Net
Radio: 910AM

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