In the first week of Pac-12 play, USC Men’s Basketball racked in a conference victory for the first time since January 2012.The Trojans followed up an impressive 71-69 win over Stanford by laying an egg in the second half, losing to Cal 72-64.
USC has already played better than last year but the Trojans exhibited some troubling signs down the stretch in both games that must be addressed moving forward. Not all was negative however, with some positive aspects that can be taken forward in conference play.
Here are five topics to munch on from USCs performance this week.
In a perfect summation of the Trojans season, USC exhibited flashes of greatness and flashes of poor rotation and help defense. Although the scores were very similar in both games, taking a deeper look at the box scores highlights some flaws in the Trojans defense.
Against Stanford, USC was dominant on the defensive end of the floor allowing the Cardinal to only shoot 39 percent from the field. What best exemplifies the defensive effort was a strong second half, allowing 27 points while shutting out Stanford’s second-leading scorer Chasson Randle.
Verus Cal, USC played strong first-half defense but struggled to shut down Allen Crabbe in the second half. With 19 points from Crabbe in the second half, Cal pulled away with the victory. The Bears shot 48 percent from the field, but effectively iced the game by shooting 62 percent from downtown.
For USC to improve defensively, effort must be present on a nightly basis. Fans witnessed the best and worst of the Trojans defensive effort in their Pac-12 season opener.
One of the major goals defensively for USC is to allow less than 35 points per half, something the team did in two of the four halves this weekend. On a positive note, USC shut down Stanfords Randle and Cal Justin Cobbs.
Containing opposing guards will be key for USC to survive a strong Pac-12 slate. But, the biggest goal moving forward will be to keep opposing teams in the 60-point range.
Chass Bryan Welcome to the Pac-12
When Byran Welsey left in the second half against Stanford, freshmen guard Chass Bryan delivered. With 10 pivotal points on 5-6 shooting from the field, Bryan sparked the Trojans comeback victory.
Following that 24 minute performance, coach Kevin O’Neil rewarded Bryan with 18 minutes against Cal. Bryan scored four points, but missed on a pivotal opportunity to swing the game in USCs favor.
USC was traling by four when Bryan stole the ball and was driving to the rack for an open layup. Then out of seemingly nowhere, Justin Cobbs rejected the shot and pushes the ball for Cal leading to a scored basket. Unfortunately, that four-point swing will detract from Bryan’s outstanding play in the last two games.
Bryan has responded positively to his increased role, especially when he and Jio Fontan play the dual guard positions. When coach Kevin O’Neil plays both of them, the Trojans become much more electric on offense and the pace of the game picks up for the better.
Wise Is Smartest Option for USC Offense
Eric Wise has thrived in his new role at the small forward position. Now averaging 11.7 points per game on 51-percent shooting, Wise has become the leading scorer and most capable option for USC.
In two Pac-12 games, Wise attempted and made the most shots for the Trojans. Against Stanford, Wise was efficient shooting 50-percent from the field and 66-percent from downtown.
When USC fell behind agains Cal, Wise became the lead scoring option firing up 14 shots. Coming into the season as an afterthought, Wise has overtaken JT Terrell and Omar Oraby as the most important transfer.
Wise can score from anywhere on the court, especially when he uses strength to back down smaller defenders at the small forward positon. With a little more work on his 18-to-20 foot jumper, Wise will begin averaging over 15-points per contest.
More Relaxed Kevin O’Neil
Dewayne Dedmon has played inspired minutes over the last three games, recording his first career double-double yesterday versus Cal. Omar Oraby is starting to pass out of traps better and Jio Fontan is taking control of the team with his veteran leadership.
O’Neill continues to bench JT Terrell but the Trojans new starter, Aaron Fuller, has capitalized on the opportunity. Fuller is averaging is averaging seven points per game in his last three contests, and is playing with constant tenacity.
Although the lineup continues to fluctuate, O’Neill is starting to get the best effort from his previously underperforming roster. This type of effort will get other coaches attention, best noted by head coach Mike Montgomery’s thoughts from last night.
Last season, the bulk of USCs offense would rely on Maurice Jones to score in isolation. This season however, the Trojans have received a balanced scoring effort by moving the basketball.
Against both Cal and Stanford four players scored in double figures. Last night: Dedmon, Wise, Fontan, Wesley carried the Trojans offense combining for 48 of 64 points. Against Stanford: Wise, Fontan, Dedmon and Bryan all scored in double figures sparking the second-half 38-point output.
In Pac-12 play, USC has improved their scoring average posting 67 points per game which is seven over their season average. The Trojans rough non-conference schedule is starting to pay dividends for USC, who has now faced three elite-level team in Minnesota, New Mexico and SDSU. This type of competition has prepared USC for the toughness and athleticism Pac-12 teams will present this season.
Up Next… Rocky Mountain High
USC will travel to Colorado and Utah for a two-game road-trip this week.The Trojans will enter an incredible enviornment at the Coors Event Center in Boulder Colorado against a hungry Buffalo team that was robbed of a victory against No. 3 ranked Arizona Wildcats.
The Utah Utes although weak on paper have a talented center in Jason Washburn, who is averaging 18 points and 14 rebounds in Pac-12 play. This is also a team that lost to red-hot Arizona State in OT, and took Arizona to the wire.