Rough game on Wednesday. Sadly, we have to wait an extra day to get a frown-upsidedowning win (hopefully) against USC. Last time Cal took on the Trojans (down in LA), USC gave Cal one of its most disappointing losses of the year. Hopefully, revenge can be ours on Sunday!
We spoke with Evan Budrovich at Conquest Chronicles to get a bead on where USC fans are on their MBB team. Many thanks to Mr. Budrovich for his help here. Go Bears!
1. USC was picked 11th in the preseason poll and they currently sit 12th, one game back of Washington State. In that context, how has Andy Enfield's first year gone?
When you look from that perspective, the season has been relatively unsuccessful and filled with many reasons for concern for the rest of the season. That said, the Trojans are currently playing with a roster not fit to strive under Andy Enfield's system and are thus struggling to find a consistent identity on both ends of the court. USC has been competitive in the second half of Pac-12 play, but losing multiple close games in the final minutes was not the way Enfield conjured up the battle plan for his first season.
2. What are the major differences in how Enfield has this team playing compared to years past?
One of the main differences between this team and FGCU teams of past is that the Trojans lack strong point guard play, night in and night out, to facilitate the basketball. Also, and probably more importantly to their success, USC is the worst perimeter shooting team in the conference which means defenses can clog the paint on pick and roll plays. It's not like USC isn't trying to push the tempo on offense. The problem is that when you combine missed shots, turnover prone players and an inconsistent starting lineup, Enfield has the deck stacked against him for any relative success this season.
3. Byron Wesley has taken a huge step forward, averaging 7 more points per game in only 3 more minutes. What's been the key to his growth as a player? How have teams managed to slow him down?
Byron Wesley has been the lone bright spot on this USC roster, but that has not come without a fair share of set backs along the way. Wesley has been much more assertive with the basketball, and is also taking smart shots instead of forcing tough chances. This season has been extremely impressive, especially with his work on the defensive glass, and speaks highly to his development as a leader and finisher in late shot-clock situations. What opposing teams have done however, is guard Byron with long, lanky defenders that get right into his face and make every opportunity tough.
4. Last time these teams met, Nikola Jovanovic burst out of seemingly nowhere to score a career high 23 points. Do you see him dominating the interior again this game?
I see Nikola Jovanovic playing very well in this rematch, but he will not put up 23 points and control the paint. Just over the last two weeks or so, Nikola has become a minimal part of the offense and is not demanding the basketball down low. While that not has changed from most of the year, he was much more assertive against Richard Solomon, really making his presence felt inside.
5. Who's one "under the radar" player that is poised to break out?
This is a really tough question because I don't think this current group without Byron Wesley can put up monstrous games, but I'd say that Pe'Shon Howard would be the biggest threat to become more assertive and go off for double digit points.
6. USC has really struggled to defend the 3 point line, ranking 10th or worse in 3PA, 3P makes, and 3p%. Is this a vulnerability you see Cal exploiting?
Cal certainly tested out that method the last time these teams met, and struggled to convert from behind the arc only shooting 29 percent. This time around Cal will have the home crowd on their side, plenty of motivation to shoot well and the confidence to step on USC's throat right from the start of the game. Cal will look to push the tempo and play to the advantage of their home crowd if they can get ahead. Once that transpires, the Bears can utilize good ball movement to set up wide open shots from downtown.
7. Fill in the blanks: to notch another upset, USC will have to _____________ while preventing Cal from ________________.
USC will have to find a way to score the basketball against zone defense because Cal will be playing lots of it if they've been watching any film of the Trojans offensive struggles this season. USC must prevent Cal from getting ahead early in the basketball game. If Justin Cobbs can break down the defense and distribute the basketball, USC does not have the horses (especially without Wesley) to come from behind with an real confidence on offense.
8. Looking forward, what steps does the program have to take to return to Pac-12 relevance?
Wait till next year. Andy Enfield will get a full offseason to work with his players like Jordan McLaughlin, Katin Reinhardt and Darion Clark. These high impact players could flourish in a run-and-gun philosophy and will allow USC to score the basketball with some proficiency. If USC can improve their offense next season, defenses will be forced to actually guard the perimeter and room will open up down low for Nikola Jovanovic and Malik Price-Martin in the paint. Then, and just then, USC can get back to some form of relevance in the conference.