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Previewing USC: Cal Men's Basketball Looks for Revenge

There are no words for what happened the last time these teams met.


Cal was surging at 14-4, 5-0 in conference while USC had limped its way to 9-9, 0-5. All the warning signs of a let-down game came true as our Golden Bears came out flat and ended up being flat-out dominated. To their credit, the Trojans played tough, physical basketball and very much deserved to win this game.

In fact, it's a bit of mystery how USC has managed to go winless in conference play besides the upset-that-we-really-don't-want-to-discuss-any-more. They certainly haven't been blown out during the second half of conference play and dropped two close ones in overtime to Stanford and Oregon State. This is a team with some talented pieces that has to be taken more seriously than their record would indicate. If anyone should get that, you'd think it would be us.

Stylistically, the Trojans like to play fast, but their Achilles' heel is a conference-worst turnover percentage to go with the worst three-point shooting percentage and the 2nd-worst eFG%. As hard as it might be for traumatized Cal fans to believe, USC is also not a particularly adept defensive squad despite having some shot-blockers inside.

Kenpom claims we have a 87% chance of getting some payback and this was before the late-breaking news that USC's best player, Byron Wesley, was suspended for the Bay Area trip. With the uneven nature of our sturdy Golden Bears, how our guys come out may be more about reading tea leaves than actual science.

Projected Starters:

C Omar Oraby(Sr), 7'2, 270 lbs, 8.8 ppg, 6.4 rpg

F Nikola Jovanovic(Fr), 6'10, 215 lbs, 8.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg

G Pe'Shon Howard(Sr), 6'3, 190 lbs, 10.4 ppg, 4.3 apg

G J.T. Terrell(Sr), 6'3, 185 lbs, 10.1 ppg, 2.8 rpg

G Julian Jacobs(Fr), 6'3, 180 lbs, 6.6 ppg, 4.0 rpg


F Strahinja Gavrilovic(So), 6'9, 225 lbs, 3.3 ppg, 1.9 rpg

C D.J. Haley(Sr), 3.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg

G Byron Wesley(Jr), 6'5, 210 lbs, 17.6 ppg, 6.9 rpg ***Suspended for violating a team rule

Personnel Review from our last preview:

"Omar Oraby and D.J. Haley were saved from unemployment in Greenland by the lure of Div-I ball. Last year, Oraby was more of a shot-blocker/rebounder. This year, he's showing better touch around the basket.

D.J. Haley was a bit of stiff last year. Not much has changed.
Nikola Jovanovic was a highly regarded high school player from Florida who also has experience playing on the Serbian Junior Team. Like many European bigs, he's a skilled player with an all-around game that includes range beyond the arc.

Pe'Shon Howard is a transfer from Maryland. He was granted a hardship waiver to be closer to his ailing grandmother. He's their most dangerous three-point shooter, but is also a great set-up man. He was on the Bob Cousy national watch list last year as one of the nation's best point guards.
Precocious frosh Julian Jacobs is an explosive leaper who is a perfect fit for the Dunk City community. Although known more for his ability to take it to the rim, he's been surprisingly good as a passer.
Byron Wesley is another player who has really flourished in Enfield's system. Still more of scorer than a jump shooter, he's dangerous slashing to the hoop to finish or draw fouls.

Sixth man J.T. Terrell led the conference last year in made three-pointers per game. For some reason, he's been cold from deep (26%) this season, but you still have to respect him as a threat."


1) Embrace the tempo.

USC is #1 in tempo, #12 in turnovers. We're #5 and #1, respectively. Basically, we're better at playing fast without making mistakes. This is a great way to get easy shots for our young wings without worrying about their shot-blockers inside or the mercurial nature of our deep threats.

2) Show some pride.

On paper, almost every single match-up should be a Cal advantage or neutral at worst.

If Oraby is catching lobs over our bigs all day, or their guards are driving past flat-footed defenders...then there really are no answers.

We'll need Justin Cobbs to do a better job of keeping Howard out of the paint in this go-around.

Wesley is the one guy whose physical scoring ability makes him a tough cover. However, he didn't make the trip to the Bay Area after being suspended for violating a team rule.

Two big factors that are different for the Bears this time around will the presence of a mostly healthy Ricky Kreklow and David Kravish.(rumored to be ill during the Southern California road trip)

3) Switching screens, slipping screens, and zone.

Generally speaking, USC does not shoot the ball well from the outside. Cal defenders should be able to go under screens or even pack the interior by throwing in some zone. Last time, we alternated between fronting and playing behind their bigs. Either strategy would work provided we don't let ourselves get physically pushed around and our help-side defense stays alert. With Solo's athleticism, it makes sense to have him front Oraby and let Kravish be ready to come with a double-team. Since USC is prone to turning it over, forcing them to make an extra pass gives them another chance to make a mistake.

4) Insert cliche about focus, energy, and effort here. If we can't beat USC at home with their best player out...

Go Bears!

Tip-Off: Sunday, Feb 23, 5pm
Television: FS1
Radio: KGO 810 AM