The Trojans played two thrillers in the opening weekend of the Bob Cantu era, much to the approval of the Galen Center faithful.
The Trojans had three oportunites to force overtime but came up short against the red-hot Oregon Ducks 76-74 on Thursday Night. A key stop in the final moments secured the 69-68 victory over Oregon State, giving Cantu his first win as USC Head Coach.
Behind marvelous efforts from JT Terrell, Eric Wise and Byron Wesley, the Trojans exemplified a balanced attack from the perimeter, a facet that has been truly missing for most of the season.
Unfortunately turnovers reigned supreme in both contests, making for sloppy basketball in what otherwise was a positive slate of games.
Believe it or not, the Trojans are right in the middle of the Pac-12 as the sixth ranked team in a conference full of surprises and utter disappointments. Here are some points to ponder on from the Trojans Northwest Passage.
SEVEN-FOOT SET BACK
Omar Oraby and Dewayne Dedmon have become defensive liabilites for the USC Trojans. Head Coach Bob Cantu started Oraby against Oregon State and Dedmon versus Oregon while ironically, both had better games when they came off the bench.
Omar Oraby was presented with the challenging of stopping 290 lb senior-forward Joe Burton from Oregon State. The man made life miserable for Omar Oraby in only 15 minutes of action, limiting Oraby to only three rebounds and no blocked shots.
The greatest weakness that was exposed against the Oregon schools was Oraby’s struggle on pick-and-roll defense. Oraby is not the quickest lateral defender, making for life away from the basket troubling for the seven-footer.
Since USC looked slow on pick and roll rotation, Oregon State feverishly drove to the basket with Roberto Nelson and Burton running the two-man game.
Omar Oraby has been considered the most polished shooter of the seven-footers but has looked anything but in his last two games. Larger defenders push him away from the comfortable base-line hook shot that he employs.This type of defense turns Oraby into a player that only attempts seven shots in two games, which will not suffice in this offense.
Mr. Effort Dewayne Dedmon was solid against Oregon but looked foolish versus the Beavers. Against Oregon, Dedmon was presented quite the challenge in Tony Woods and Carlos Emery. The combination limited Dedmon’s ability to dominate the glass and score easy baskets, scoring eight on 33 percent shooting.
Dedmon allowed the Ducks to grab 13 critical offensive rebounds which ultimately detoured the Trojans upset bid. The guard heavy Sun Devils and Wildcats will present more challenges in the pick-and-roll defense this week.
SHOT SELECTION FUELS TERRELL
The knock I have consistently placed on JT Terrell is that he continues to take ill-advised shots that fuel transition baskets for the opposing team. A 22-point effort against Oregn on 50-percent shooting countered my rhetoric.
Terrell was making his perimeter shots, and drove to the basket with purpose. With a confident swagger and a strong stroke from behind the arc, Terrell elevated the Trojans offense going step-for-step with a balanced Duck attack.
The shot selection remained positive, for the most part, in a less dominant performance against Oregon State. Terrell was missing his deep shots only shooting 2-7 from downtown.
For stretches, Terrell struggled to get back on defense fueling the Beavers 15-point second-half comeback. On the positive note, Terrell has developed into the Trojans most explosive scorer that is not afraid to take or make the big shot for the Trojans.
In arguably his best play of the weekend, Terrell drove to the basket and kicked to Aaron Fuller for the game-winning basket against Oregon State. Combine that with a four-point play against Oregon, and you have a strong presence all over the offensive end for USC.
WESLEY SILENT BUT DEADLY
Byron Wesley has quietly picked up his game on the offensive end of the court, scoring 30 points in his past two games. The super sophomore is not even the first option or second in the offense, yet he drives to the basket with purpose and determination.
Wesley carried the Trojans with 12 first-half points against Oregon State taking the Beavers leading scorer Roberto Nelson shot for shot. What I love most about Wesley’s game is what might ultimately make him the most unassuming leader of the offense.
Wesley is unselfish with the ball and does not want to force unnecessary shots yet sometimes, his best plays come at the end of shot clock with short floaters and bank-shot layups. Wesley attempted 19 shots in his last two games making an impressive 58 percent of those shots.
Complimentary offensive play from Wesley will make up for his athletic defeciences on the defensive end of the court. If Wesley can continue to finish at the rim, the Trojans will be truly balanced on the offensive of the court, fueling their recent offensive explosion of sorts.
TROJANS ZONED OUT
Bob Cantu has been less reluctant than recent coaching staffs to implement zone defense but sure has struggled against the zone. When USC was starting to let the wheels slip against Oregon State, Cantu immediately switched to zone defense to combat the Beavers pick-and-roll offense.
These type of lineups work best when Aaron Fuller and Dewayne Dedmon are in the lineup alongside Eric Wise down low. This athletic lineup allows the Trojans to contest shots from all over the court, which is necessary against the talented rosters in the Pac-12.
What looked most worrisome was the lack of preparation the Trojans had for aggressive 1-3-1 zone defense that Oregon State presented. The second-half blitz forced 20 turnovers in the ball game. Head Coach Bob Cantu said his team was not well prepare for the zone, but man the struggles were excruciatingly painful to watch.
The ball handling skills that Maurice Jones provided were severely missed in these contests. Current point guard Jio Fontan is a distributor, but not necessarily the best dribbler under pressure.The stagnant Trojan offense did not move without the basketball, making ball movement difficult for Fontan, who committed 13 turnovers in the two-game stretch.