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Cal MBB Preview for Pac-12 Opener vs. USC


NCAA Basketball: Legends Classic Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

The moment we have all been waiting for has finally arrived, as Cal men’s basketball begins conference play by traveling down to SoCal in order to play the USC Trojans.

USC struggled in OOC play while dealing with injuries, going 7-6 but winning only against smaller schools. They played against five Power 5 schools and lost to all of them, and added a sixth loss in a double overtime game against Santa Clara.

Despite all of this, ESPN gives Cal a 7.6% chance of winning this game. That should tell you just about what to expect for this game and season as a whole.

Give me a second to wipe away my tears... ah, yes. Now let’s take a look at our opponent.

USC Trojans

Record: 7-6

Points/Game: 79.3

Points Allowed/Game: 73.6

Last 5 Games

W vs. UC Davis, 73-55

W vs. Southern Utah, 91-49

L @ Santa Clara, 102-92 (2OT)

L vs.* Oklahoma, 81-70

L vs.* TCU , 96-61

* = neutral location

Projected Starters

JR G Derryck Thornton - 9.0PPG/3.0RPG/4.5APG/1.0SPG

JR G Jonah Mathews - 12.4PPG/3.4RPG/2.8APG/1.3SPG

SR G Shaqquan Aaron - 10.2PPG/4.7RPG/2.0APG/1.2SPG

SR F Bennie Boatwright - 15.0PPG/6.4RPG/2.5APG

JR F Nick Rakocevic - 14.3PPG/10.3RPG/1.1APG/1.1SPG/1.9BPG

Key Reserve

FR G Elijah Weaver - 6.9PPG/2.0RPG/2.0APG

Keys for a Cal Win

  1. Interior Defense: USC’s two top scorers come from their two big men in Nick Rakocevic and Bennie Boatwright. Unfortunately, Cal’s interior defense is one of their greatest weaknesses. Against USC, our front court of the 6’7” Justice Sueing and 6’8” Andre Kelly will have a major height disadvantage against the 6’10” Boatwright and 6’’11” Rakocevic. Connor Vanover (if he is healthy enough to play), despite being very raw as a defender, might need to get a lot of playing time in order to keep up with the height of USC’s front court. Regardless, Cal will need to find answers in order to have a chance at winning this game.
  2. Capitalizing On Turnovers: One area that Cal actually holds an advantage over USC statistically is the turnover margin. USC turns the ball over 13.0 times and forces 14.3 per game while Cal gives it up just 11.1 times while forcing 13.4 per game. Cal needs to protect the ball and forces turnovers from USC. If they can establish an advantage in this department while also collecting points off turnovers, then it could be their key to victory.
  3. Rebounding: This is pretty much going to be one of the keys for every game, but especially against USC. With their lack of height, Cal is an extremely poor rebounding team. USC does not share this problem, as they get almost 10 more rebounds/game than our Bears. It is unrealistic to expect us to out-rebound the Trojans, but it will be crucial to grab as many as we can to limit USC’s advantage.

What do you think Cal fans? Can we pick up the W?