Is Cal Men's Basketball Ready to Turn Back the Trojans?

Jeff Gross

Bar the gates and look out for burning wagons. The USC Trojans and their Brute Squad are paying us a visit. After firing Coach Kevin O'Neill in mid-January, the Trojans have enjoyed a resurgence under 12-year assistant Bob Cantu. They've gone 5-3 since he took over including a huge upset win over cross-town rival UCLA and a sweep of the Washington schools. In stark contrast to Kevin O'Neill's impending-aneurysm-face (i.e., uptight) style, Coach Cantu is known for a much calmer demeanor. The result has been a Trojan team playing free, loose, and with confidence.

When we last faced the Trojans, they had one of the league's worst offenses coupled with a sieve-like defense. In particular, their starting backcourt was only shooting 29% from the field. Now, this USC team likes to push the pace and are second in the league in three point shooting at 36%.

Despite their trio of seven footers, this still isn't a great rebounding team. But what's changed is the attacking nature of their offense. Their wings are slashing to the basket and getting themselves to the line. And their guards have been hot from down town.

Fortunately, it's been Defense-Bears-Defense that has been at the heart of Cal's signature wins this year.

Let's go get this one.


Starters:
C Dewayne Dedmon(Sr) 7'0, 255 lbs, 6.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg
F Eric Wise(Sr), 6'6, 240 lbs, 12.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg
G Byron Wesley(So) 6'5, 210 lbs, 10.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg
G JT Terrell(Jr), 6'3, 185 lbs, 10.6 ppg, 1.8 rpg
G Jio Fontan(Sr), 6'0, 175 lbs, 9.4 ppg, 5.1 apg

Bench
F Aaron Fuller(Sr), 6'6, 235 lbs, 4.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg
C Omar Oraby(Jr), 7'2, 270 lbs, 6.4 ppg, 3.6 rpg
C James Blascyzk(Sr), 7'1, 260 lbs, 1.6 ppg, 1.4 rpg
G Chass Bryan(Fr), 5.9, 165 lbs 2.1 ppg, 1.5 apg

Our last preview can befound here:

Down at the Galen Center, Cal pulled out a narrow victory behind Allen Crabbe's 27 points and some late three point shooting off the bench from Jeff Powers. It was an ugly game typified by offensive struggles on both sides.

Several weeks later, both teams have seen an uptick in scoring and shooting percentages. For the Trojans, Eric Wise is still their most consistent all-around player. However, Jio Fontan has broken out of his early season slump to regain his form as a credible downtown threat. JT Terrell has freed himself from O'Neill's doghouse and has quickly made up for lost time by putting up shots from anywhere and everywhere. Byron Wesley has quietly improved his play and scoring average.

Now that teams have to respect their outside shooting, it makes their size inside more dangerous. Dedmon is more of their rebounder/shot-blocker while Oraby and Fuller offer more scoring.


Keys to the Game:

1) Stay with their shooters. Don't double the post. Deny dribble penetration.

Our bigs will have to play theirs straight up and take our chances. Yes, the Trojans have plenty of size. But these are the least dangerous players on their team. When USC is rolling, it's because their guards have gotten hot from the outside. Remember the scouting report which shows Terrell leading the conference in three-pointers made per game.

I'd expect Cobbs to draw this assignment early. Wallace has better length, but is still prone to getting run off by screens.

2) Keep playing Montyball.

When Cal has played well this year, we've avoided turnovers, gotten back in transition, and protected our defensive glass. It's fun watching good basketball. More, please.

3) Balance.

We used to know we need Crabbe/Cobbs to carry the team with some opportunistic contributions wherever we can get them. But now we're getting great play from our bigs and the team Swiss army knife, Ty Wallace. This team has really grown up with regards to execution on both ends. Players finally seem to be buying in and figuring out what the coaches want them to do. There's no need to force things or go outside your role. We're getting good shots within the flow of the offense...better yet, they're finally falling.

4) Come out focused, intense, and ready to be physical.

Don't expect to see a lot of zone in this one. The Trojans often play with four outside shooters spreading the floor around one lumbering big. It'll already be a tough match-up for Kravish when he's forced to chase a smaller man around the perimeter. With our limited bench, we don't have a lot of other options. So, it'll be up to the guys on the floor to win their one on ones and dictate terms to USC instead of vice-versa.


Go Bears!

Game Time: Sunday, February 17th, 7:00 pm(PST)
TV: FSN (KICU-36 locally?)
Radio: 910AM

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