USC Basketball Preview: Bradley Braves


USC Trojans (2-1) at Bradley Braves (3-0)

Head Coach: Jim Les (Year 9: 145-120)

Conference: Missouri Valley Conference (MVC)

Stars: G Andrew Warren, G Dodie Dunson

Location: MassMutal Center (Springfield, Massachusetts)

Time: 2:00 PM PDT


Radio: 710AM

Matchup: USC travels to Massachusetts as part of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic for its first road contest of the season. The Trojans dropped a contest by 20 points to Rider at home after beating UC Irvine and Santa Clara to start the year. Kevin O’Neill’s squad looked tired during their third game in six days, and they will have to rebound if they want to build their resume for the NCAA tournament. Freshman guard Maurice Jones played all 120 minutes during the homestand, and the Trojan faithful better hope the two days off allowed his legs to rest since he plays such a crucial position.

Bradley enters today’s contest undefeated after beating Texas A&M-Kingsville, Northern Illinois. and Loyal Marymount at home. The Braves won the last two contests in a close fashion, and now will face their first serious test of the season.

Offensively, USC needs to step up their offensive attack. Their legs were tired against Rider, and it showed in their inability to shoot out of the zone. Their offense consisted of jacking up mid-range to long-range jumpers against Rider, and that didn’t work. Bradley has some height in 6’10” center Anthony Thompson, but the Trojans need to utilize their inside game. Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stephenson (despite the broken left hand) are a difficult physical presence, and Maurice Jones needs to find ways to get the two big men in one-on-one situations inside the paint. When Vucevic is down low and man-to-man, he has a very high percentage chance of converting for points. One problem against Rider was the foul trouble Nikola  Vucevic found himself in. The junior scored two points in the first half in limited action because he committed too many fouls. He had a more appreciable impact in the second half, but it wasn’t enough. The Trojans also need Maurice Jones to increase the penetration. With his lightning quick athleticism, Jones can either get to the basket or dish it to an open man for an easy bucket. We saw his dominance against Santa Clara when he rolled up 29 points.

Defensively, USC needs to play tighter and with more enthusiasm than they did against Rider. The Broncs used open shots to build an early lead and never looked back. For any team, allowing the opponent to shoot over 60% is shameful. When the Trojans stepped up the pressure in the second half, Rider had more trouble. Redshirt senior guard Andrew Warren will present the biggest problem for the Trojans. Guard Justin Robinson was 9-10 from the floor for Rider, and guard Kevin Foster scored 26 points for Santa Clara. USC must pay special attention to Warren and make sure he doesn’t get open shots, because good guard play is the bane of the Trojans’ existence. Dodie Dunson also averages double figure at the guard position. Kevin O’Neill must find a way to slow down the opponents’ 1 and 2 positions. Big men on the opposing team have trouble inside because Vucevic and Stepheson are such a force, but guards have had their way against the youthful tandem of freshman Maurice Jones and Bryce Jones.

Given the depth of the Pac-10, USC can’t afford to lose to inferior teams if they plan on reaching the 20 win mark. 20 wins is the bench mark for the NCAA tournament, which is the Trojans ultimate goal. Kevin O’Neill mentioned that Wednesday’s performance was the worse defensively since he took the job. After two days off, USC needs to show up with energy and win this game if they want to continue their march to the big dance.

Stat of the Week: USC is 3-4 all-time against Bradley.