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Cal Men's Basketball Preview: Versus USC

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Can an LA road trip kick the Bears out of an inconsistent malaise? Or will they be overwhelmed by a pack of Trojans?

More blocks needed, with less attempts at second base
More blocks needed, with less attempts at second base
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Here we are after a confusing weekend of college basketball. On Friday, Cal beat Washington with superior coaching and a resurgence by Jordan Mathews. On Sunday, the Bears fell flat, forgot how to shoot, and lost to a less-talented Washington State squad despite Mathews catching fire NBA Jam-style. It's confusing to not know Cal's ceiling at this point in the season. The inconsistency is maddening, especially after seeing us shred Syracuse's zone early in the season. The loss of Jabari Bird has been beaten to death and it is a contributing factor, but inconsistency in shooting, ball control, and interior defense has been troubling.

USC may be a cure to this, as the Trojans have struggled in giving up points, ranked in the lower third in the country in points allowed per game. Nikola Jovanovic is the main big man for the Trojans, and he averages less than a block a game. This bodes well for Tyrone Wallace and Christian Behrens, who have been relatively stymied recently with the bigs from Washington and Washington State. Andy Enfield has not had the "Dunk City" success with this group of players, and Cal will have the opportunity to take advantage.

Katin Reinhardt is a familiar name for some Cal fans after having sat out last season due to transferring from UNLV. He played against us in the 2013 NCAA tournament and during that season, and should be a three point threat. Or he would be, if he weren't shooting 32% from the field. Jovanovic has played well offensively, but only shoots 22% from three. He does shoot over 50% from the field, so he has played solidly. Jordan McLaughlin is the leading scorer for the Trojans, but is hovering around 38% from the field. Cal's perimeter defense has played relatively solidly, and can hold up on these guys.

Starters:

G Katin Reinhardt (So.) 6'6" 205 lbs 10.2 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 32.5% FG

G Jordan McLaughlin (Fr.) 6'1" 170 lbs 12.7 PPG, 4.7 APG

G Julian Jacobs (So.) 6'4" 180 lbs 6.9 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 55.9% FG

F Malik Martin (Fr.) 6'11" 220 lbs 5.1 PPG, 3.1 RPG

F Nikola Jovanovic (So.) 6'11" 230 lbs 12.1 PPG, 8.1 RPG

Bench:

G Malik Marquetti (Fr.) 6'6" 190 lbs

G Elijah Stewart (Fr.) 6'5" 180 lbs

F Strahinja Gavrilovic (Jr.) 6'9" 230 lbs

F Darion Clark (So.) 6'7" 220 lbs

Key Players:

Jovanovic, Reinhardt, and McLaughlin will shoulder the vast majority of the scoring load for the Trojans. Jovanovic will provide the majority of the low post scoring. Enfield has used many different lineups this year, and every player listed above, aside from Gavrilovic, has started a game for USC. This is a very inexperienced team, with multiple freshmen and sophomores in the rotation. Enfield doesn't seem to have solidified a strict rotation, as McLaughlin is the only player averaging more than 30 minutes per game. Malik Martin has intriguing size, and his insertion into the starting lineup could provide a much needed inside presence defensively.

Here are the #tracepuntos for Wednesday evening, Clyde Frazier style

1. Do some swishing and dishing:

Use USC's inexperience at this level against them. Make them rotate to cover the ball, so much so that they make mistakes. This can be done through any number of ways, the majority of which start with a Tyrone Wallace drive. Making the defense converge on Wallace will open up lanes for Behrens and Kravish. With Jordan Mathews reviving his shot, he will be keyed on as well. His driving ability has improved as well, so expect him to open up opportunities for Kravish, Behrens, and Tarwater.

2. Let Moute a Bidias do some bounding and astounding

Roger Moute a Bidias has made a massive improvement from last year, and his athletic ability is what stands out amongst his improving basketball skills. He competed for almost every offensive rebound while he was in against the Washington squads. He plays excellent defense, and if Cuonzo is willing to shake up the lineups, he could start on Reinhardt and stymie him with his wingspan. I think we'll see at least one uber-athletic play out of him this week.

3. Style and profile:

USC isn't anywhere near us talent-wise or experience. We need to have a truly dominant performance, which we haven't had since the Syracuse game. So here's the opportunity to pummel a less talented team to regain some confidence. Maybe Ty and Jordan can get a bit of a break, since they've been carrying the lion's share of the minutes at the guard spots. Give Kingsley some more minutes, let him try to replicate what he saw Robert Upshaw do last Friday. This team needs a big win, and this could be it.