USC Basketball Preview: Kansas Jayhawks


USC Trojans (6-4) at No. 3 Kansas (9-0)

Head Coach: Bill Self (Year 8: 211-43)

Conference: Big XII

Stars: F

Location: Time: 9:00 AM (PDT)


Radio: 710 AM

Matchup: Riding a two game winning streak, the USC Trojans travel to legendary Phog Allen Fieldhouse for a marquee non-conference game on ESPN. The Men of Troy have lost two in a row each time they have come into a contest on a two game winning streak. After their high octane attack broke down a ranked Texas squad, USC struggled early against the zone defense and Northern Arizona. Ultimately, they pulled away for the victory. The Trojans have had their share of heartbreaking loses this season, and should have a better record than they do. Which version of the Trojans will we see? The one that got blown out by Rider, or the one that trounced Texas?

The perennial powerhouse Kansas Jayhawks are undefeated with a quality win over Memphis and wins over Arizona and UCLA. The Jayhawks are ranked third in the country and are once again considered a contender for the national title. Bill Self’s squad features a plethora of talent that will pose problems for USC.

In 2009, USC’s offense, and overall play, improved considerably when transfer point guard Mike Gerrity became eligible for the second semester. The 2010 edition of the Trojans might experience a similar boost as transfer Jio Fontan (Fordham) makes his debut for USC. Kevin O’Neill has repeatedly stressed that Fontan is USC’s best player, and his presence should improve the offense. Maurice Jones has done a fantastic job as a freshman running the point guard position, but Fontan’s experience will add another dimension and add much needed depth. For USC to beat Kansas, they will likely have to shoot well from mid-range and beyond the arc. The Morris twins don’t match up height wise with Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson, but they like to play inside with physicality. Points inside won’t be easy, and hopefully USC can find a rhythm early. Early on, USC needs Fontan to find his shot and gain some confidence so that he can have a large impact. All things considered, the Trojans must hope Kansas doesn’t run a zone defense against them. When an opponent plays man-to-man, USC usually has the offensive prowess to keep up with nearly anyone because they have the speed and athleticism. Once teams start playing zone, the offense gets bogged down and they have to settle for long jump shots, which never ends well.

For USC’s defense, Kansas will present the toughest challenge to date. The Jayhawks ranked fifth nationally with 87 points per game and are the best shooting team in the country at 55.8%. Kansas has been turnover prone early on, but it hasn’t negatively impacted their games because of their ability to drain shots. Four players average double figures and they move the ball extremely well as they also lead the nation in assists per game. Inside, brothers Marcus (16.9 PPG) and Markieff Morris (12.3 PPG) shoot the ball incredibly well and bring down rebounds. Much like in the Texas game, USC needs to try to deny the ball inside and then help out if the ball gets in the paint. Texas missed a lot of close range shots when the Trojans put serious pressure on the big men once they got the ball. Guards Tyshawn Taylor and Tyrel Reed also average double figures and will give freshman guard Bryce Jones all he can handle. In addition, highly touted freshman Josh Selby will make his Kansas debut. The hype surrounding him is enormous, and it is likely he will be itching to make a big impact after having to sit out the first nine games.

The chance of an upset seems slim, even though USC beat Texas. The game starts at 9 AM on the west coast and the early start time could lead to a sluggish start. On top of that, the Trojans are heading to a hostile environment against a very talented team. Kansas is nearly invincible at home, having won their past 64 at Allen Fieldhouse. Meanwhile, USC is 4-19 in its last 23 road contests. If USC stuns the Jayhawks, it would be an amazing victory that could put them in the good graces of the NCAA Selection Committee come March despite losing to Rider, TCU, and Bradley.