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January 29, 2008

Trojans host Arizona schools

PREVIEW: USC vs. ARIZONA/ARIZONA STATE
Thursday, 7:30 p.m. vs. Arizona. Galen Center. TV: FSN. Radio: 710 AM, Sirius 130. Saturday, 7:30 p.m. vs. ASU. Galen Center. TV: Prime Ticket. Radio: 710 AM, Sirius 125.

Fresh off of a sweep of the state of Oregon, the USC Trojans return home to face the Arizona Wildcats and the Arizona State Sun Devils this week at the Galen Center. Up for grabs is 3rd place in the Pacific 10 conference, as all three teams are currently tied for that position at 4-3.

USC, which started the conference season at 0-3, is riding a 4-game conference winning streak, their first such streak since the 2001-02 season.

BY THE NUMBERS:

Records: USC (13-6, 4-3); Arizona (14-6, 4-3); ASU (14-5, 4-3).
Notable Wins Over Potential NCAA Tournament Teams: USC (UCLA, OU, at Oregon); Arizona (Texas A&M, WSU); ASU (Arizona, Xavier, Oregon).

Conference Ranks: Offense, Defense, Notable.
USC: 8th scoring offense (69.7 PPG); 5th scoring defense (61.5 PPG); 1st FG % defense (37.6 %).
UA: 4th scoring offense (73.9 PPG); 7th scoring defense (66.4 PPG); 2nd FG % offense (49.4%).
ASU: 7th scoring offense (70.1 PPG); 4th scoring defense (59.7 PPG); 1st steals (7.05 SPG).

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

USC:
G O.J. Mayo 19.7 PPG, 4.7 RPG.
F Davon Jefferson 12.5 PPG, 5.9 RPG.
G Daniel Hackett 11.1 PPG, 4.0 APG.
F Taj Gibson 9.6 PPG, 8.2 RPG.

Arizona (Thursday):
G Jerryd Bayless 19.9 PPG, 4.6 APG.
F Chase Buddinger 17.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG.
F Jordan Hill 13.4 PPG, 8.2 RPG.
G Jawann McClellan 8.6 PPG, 3.0 APG.

ASU (Saturday):
G James Harden 18.8 PPG, 5.3 RPG.
F Jeff Pendergraph 13.4 PPG, 6.8 RPG.
G Ty Abbott 11.2 PPG, 3.6 RPG.
G Jerren Shipp 7.1 PPG, 4.3 RPG.

NEED TO KNOW:
  • FLOYD RETIRING (EVENTUALLY) UP NORTH?: USC Head Coach Tim Floyd certainly loves the state of Oregon. Floyd is 6-0 all time as Trojan head coach in games at Oregon and Oregon State. USC has won their 3rd consecutive game at McArthur Court for the first time since the 1966-1968 seasons. Additionally, the Trojans have won 4 consecutive conference games for the first time since the 2001-02 season.
  • WHERE'S LUTE?: Speaking of head coaches, Arizona has a new look on the sidelines this season with Interim Head Coach Kevin O'Neill. Prior to the Nov. 4 exhibition game, it was announced that UA head coach Lute Olson would be taking a leave of absence due to a personal matter. It was later announced on Dec. 7 that Olson would not return this season. Enter O'Neill, who was tabbed as Olson's successor on Dec. 18 and has 11 seasons of experience as an NCAA Division I head coach. O'Neill had spent the previous 7 years in the NBA.
  • STREAKY LIL' DEVILS: Arizona State has fallen out of the national rankings after losing their last three contests (at Stanford, vs. Washington, vs. WSU). This 3-game slide came on the heels of a 10-game winning streak, a streak that included wins over nationally ranked Xavier University and Arizona. The win streak was the Sun Devils longest since an 11-game stretch during the 1980-81 season.
  • ANOTHER FAB FRESHMAN: With much of the hype in the conference focusing upon Southern California and freshmen Kevin Love and O.J. Mayo, James Harden has gone largely unnoticed outside of Tempe. Harden, a former McDonald's All-American and Lakewood Artesia High product, is 5th in the conference in scoring at 18.8 points per game. Harden is also 1st in the conference in steals, 14th in rebounding, 10th in free-throw percentage, 9th in minutes played and 10th in defensive rebounding. Harden has also stepped up the most in the Sun Devils biggest games, most notably against Oregon (20 points, 7 rebounds) and Arizona (26 points, 9 rebounds), both Sun Devil victories.
  • MOST IMPRESSIVE STAT?: For O.J. Mayo in the Trojans overtime win against the Ducks, his most impressive stat was not his 25 points scored. Nor was it his 5 made 3-pointers or his 8 assists. Rather, Mayo's most impressive stat was his turnover count. Mayo had 0 turnovers in 41 minutes of action against Oregon. It was the first time this season that Mayo did not have a turnover.

    LAST TIME OUT:

    Last week, the USC Trojans swept the state of Oregon on the road for the 3rd consecutive year, defeating both Oregon State and Oregon. It was the first time since the 1966-67, 1967-68 and 1968-69 seasons that USC has swept both schools for 3 consecutive years on the road.

    On Thursday, USC spoiled OSU Interim Head Coach Kevin Mouton's coaching debut, thrashing the Beavers by a 68-44 count. O.J. Mayo led USC with 19 points and Davon Jefferson added 18 points, 7 rebounds and several highlight-reel dunks. The Trojan MVP for the evening though was not either of these two freshmen sensations but rather was Taj Gibson, who dominated the Beavers once again. Gibson, who had been averaging 15 points and 10 rebounds against OSU in his career, had 14 points and 14 rebounds in the rout. The Trojan defense also held their 7th opponent to their lowest respective field goal shooting percentage game of the season, holding the Beavers to a woeful 27.7% shooting evening.

    Saturday saw the Trojans defeat Oregon in an overtime thriller, 95-86. USC, which led throughout the contest and did so by as many as 14 points, was finally caught by the Ducks on Bryce Taylor's lay-up as time expired in regulation. The Ducks, trailing by 9 points with only 1:39 remaining, went on a 17-8 run to finish out regulation thanks largely to superb free throw shooting and foul trouble for USC. However, the Trojans responded in overtime and did so resoundingly. USC was 5-for-5 in the extra period, all in the form of 3-point shots. Keith Wilkinson and Angelo Johnson each knocked down critical threes during this period, as did regular stalwarts O.J. Mayo and Daniel Hackett. Hackett lead USC with 26 points as the starting Trojan guards, Hackett, Mayo and Dwight Lewis combined for 75 points, 15 rebounds, 9 assists and 3 steals.

    USC is now 4-3 in Pacific 10 play after starting the conference season with 3 consecutive losses. The Trojans are tied for 3rd place with both Arizona and ASU.

    THIS WEEK-SCOUTING THE TEAMS: TED'S TAKE:
    Ted Venegas is a long time contributor to USCFootball.com. Here are Ted's thoughts on Arizona and Arizona State.

    Ted's Take On The Wildcats: A Five Spot.

  • The Wildcats have been playing good basketball of late. They have won three straight, including a sweep of the Washington schools last week. They struggled early in conference play due to the injury of star freshman guard Jerryd Bayless. His return has helped to turn things around, along with an ease in schedule. Arizona won their last two at home, and beat Cal on the road.

  • Bayless is an outstanding basketball player. He can do it all on the court offensively. He is an outstanding perimeter jump shooter, and he's a good finisher. He is also great at drawing fouls and making foul shots, and he is 4th in the conference in assists. Early in the season, Bayless was a little out of control, but he has since adjusted, and he has become extremely smooth on the floor. When teamed with Chase Budinger and bench player Nic Wise, the Cats are an excellent 3-point shooting team. In fact, they lead the conference, making just a tick under 40% of their attempts.

  • Arizona is very similar in composition to the Trojans. They have a 6'9" inside player in Jordan Hill, who has made great strides in this, just his second year in the program. However, like USC, Arizona does not have a lot of depth in the frontcourt. They don't like to start Kirk Walters because he is a poor defender with slow feet. They have turned to freshman Jamelle Horne at times, but he has not been much of an offensive threat or a rebounder. Arizona rounds out the perimeter with some big guards like Bayless, Jawann McClellan, and Budinger, who is 6'7" but plays like a guard.

  • Arizona's plan is too simply out gun you. They don't rebound particularly well because of their lack of frontcourt depth. Hill is a great rebounder, but everyone else needs to pick up some of the slack. The Cats don't defend very well either. Pac-10 opponents have shot 48% against Arizona. Even the woeful Beavers managed to crack 40%. Arizona tries to beat you by shooting threes, moving the ball for easy shots, and getting to the line. They make 75% of their free throws as a team, which is excellent.

  • Bayless makes it go. He can dribble penetrate and dish or create his own shot. He is great in transition. Arizona has also developed a post game with Hill, who is not just a guy who grabs offensive rebounds and gets alley oops. Budinger gives more firepower from the outside, and McClellan has shot less threes this season, focusing on his mid range game.

  • I like this match-up for the Trojans. The Cats have scorched the nets, but the Trojans are the best defensive team in the conference. Arizona is not as likely to embarrass the Trojans on the glass either. Only WSU gets fewer offensive rebounds. Arizona's lack of defensive play will hurt them, as the Trojans have done a great job of getting good shots. If Arizona is going to win, they will have to make a lot of threes and get to the foul line. If they don't, they will lose by about ten points, and that's what I'm predicting will happen.


    Ted's Take On The Sun Devils: Five More.

  • The Sun Devils have been a surprise so far this year. They pounded a ranked Xavier team at home, and suffocated Arizona and Oregon. Since then, they have lost three straight, including a sweep at home at the hands of the Washington schools. That said, Sun Devil fans have got to be happy with the progress of the program under Herb Sendek, who brought the Princeton offense with him to Tempe.

  • The Princeton offense is a system in which the post player is central. He is used to draw the defense to create three point shots. Jeff Pendergraph is this central cog, and he has thrived in the system, averaging 13.4 points per game this season. He is not the kind of passer that the Princeton offense necessarily covets, but he certainly grabs attention from defenders, especially on the blocks. The system sets a series of picks around the perimeter as well, and utilizes cuts through the lane to create lay-ups. Often times Pendergraph will play the high post, allowing cutters open space to get to the basket.

  • When Sendek was at NC State, they had an outstanding player in Julius Hodge. Current star freshman James Harden reminds me a little of Hodge. He's not as big as Hodge, but he is a do-everything type of player. He is a great slasher to the basket, and he is a shot maker. Harden also is dangerous behind the arc. Add the fact that he's the team's second leading rebounder, and you've got a guy who will be All-Conference this year.

  • The Sun Devils run a four guard offense. Pendergraph is 6'9", and everyone else is 6'5" or less. They aren't a bad rebounding team though, and they defend very well. Only the Trojans and Stanford have defended better this season. The team likes to sag down low and stop penetration lanes. They stifled the Trojans in both meetings last season, and even held Taj Gibson to zero points in Tempe. They take great care of the basketball, and they make free throws. They keep the pace slow, and force you to beat them. Needless to say, Arizona State is a very well coached basketball team.

  • That said, ASU's stats are somewhat inflated by a very easy non-conference schedule. Despite a 14-5 record, their RPI is at 90 because their strength of schedule is not good. They have only played three road games, and lost two of them by 15 points each. ASU has shot less than 44% in conference play, and they have shot 28% from behind the arc! Ouch. Their defense has been a constant, but their offense has really struggled in Pac-10 play. They go through long stretches without points. The Sun Devils have yet to reach the offensive consistency necessary to be a top half team, which is not surprising because they start three freshmen and a sophomore in a defensive minded conference.

  • This game will not be pretty. ASU has really become an outstanding defensive team, and the Trojans struggled against them, even in the home win. I think after a big game with a glamour Arizona team, a letdown could be possible against the kind of team that the Trojans have troubles with: a grinder. I'll take the Trojans because ASU has not proved itself on the road against any good teams, but after a likely loss to UCLA, I wouldn't be surprised if the Sun Devils felt their backs against the wall, and came away with an upset. Look for a close, low scoring game.


    PREDICTIONS:

    USC vs. Arizona: As Ted notes, the Trojans and Wildcats are very similar teams in terms of personnel. Both are led by star freshmen guards that handle the ball a considerable amount of time, both rely on one significant post player, and both are extremely athletic, especially on the wings. Also, both are streaking right now and doing so in the right direction .

    Arizona is flying offensively at the moment, having won 3 in a row including a thorough whipping of then-#6 Washington State at home. Any where that you look on the Wildcat roster, there is a player that is currently setting the gym ablaze. Freshman do-everything point guard Jerryd Bayless has averaged over 24 points on 58% shooting from the field during this time (not to mention averaging almost 6 assists). Junior guard/forward Chase Buddinger (and his 42-inch vertical leap) has averaged over 22 points per game during the streak on 51% shooting. Budding 6'9" sophomore superstar Jordan Hill, who plays much bigger than his size, averaged 10.5 rebounds and 5.5 blocks in the Wildcats sweep of the state of Washington this past weekend. And as a team, the Wildcats have shot 58% from beyond the arc the past two games.

    So what must USC do to slow down the 'Cats? Simply put, play their trademark aggressive man defense. The Trojans match up well with Arizona at nearly each position. Bayless will be a challenge, but all 4 Trojan guards that see significant time (O.J. Mayo, Daniel Hackett, Dwight Lewis and Angelo Johnson) are superb defenders. Mayo, Lewis and Johnson may all see time guarding the speedy Bayless, and Hackett and Lewis will likely both draw Buddinger at different points during the game. When defending Bayless, you must stop (or at least limit) his ability to get to the basket. Bayless and Arizona live off of dribble penetration, driving and kicking and getting to the free throw line. The USC defense will have to rotate extremely well when helping each other out or coming off of screens because no team in the conference moves the ball around better than Arizona. USC may also employ their triangle-and-2 defense and play man on Buddinger and Bayless, but this defense has pros and cons when facing a team like the Wildcats. The pro is that the triangle zone will help limit the effectiveness of Jordan Hill and provide for more Trojans to be around the basket to protect the glass against only an average rebounding team. The con is that two men will be all alone guarding two great slashers, and it's not as easy to help on penetration in this defense, especially off of screens.

    But, back to match-ups, a pivotal battle will be battle of the big men, Taj Gibson against Jordan Hill. USC, though, may be forced to double Hill if he gets off early and stays out of foul trouble. Davon Jefferson is the wild card in the equation on both sides of the ball. Jefferson will not be able to play with Buddinger all night on defense, but really no Wildcat is suited to guard Davon when USC is on offense.

    There is no way to completely shut down Arizona on the offensive end as they simply have too many scorers on their roster. However, there is a clear way to slow them down. Again, USC must play steady defense and slow the tempo of the game, turning the contest into a half-court battle rather than the "run and gun" style that the Wildcats like to play. Making Arizona play defense and limiting turnovers will take Arizona out of any rhythm built. On top of this, USC must capitalize on the scoring end against a slew of "offense-first" minded defenders. The Wildcat defenders are certainly prone to giving up open looks, especially from beyond the arc (again, opponents have shot 48% from the field against the Wildcats, which is certainly not a good thing for Arizona).

    The Trojans will be attacking Hill all evening as getting him in foul trouble puts the Wildcats squarely behind the 8-ball. When Hill is out, Arizona more or less becomes a jump shooting team, a facet of the game that plays directly into the USC's hands. If the Trojans can get a hand in the face of Wildcat shooters all night and attack Hill successfully, they will win by a decent margin. If not, the "run and gun" 'Cats will run all the way to Pauley Pavilion with a win against USC in their pocket.

    However, this Trojan team is streaking right now and again, they match up as well as anyone with Arizona. We expect the young Trojans to win this contest and not to disappoint what should be a very good-sized Galen Center crowd.

    USC 77 Arizona 71


    USC vs. ASU: This game has "trap" written all over it, especially after what we hope will be a Trojan victory over Arizona on Thursday. USC has struggled mightily against Herb Sendek and his Sun Devils, losing track of their assignments on defense against the deliberate Sun Devil offense and trying in vain to force things offensively against the responsible man defense that Sendek employs. This year, also, ASU's star player, the walking "double-double" that is Jeff Pendergraph is not alone. Underrated freshman sensation James Harden has joined the fray, following his former Lakewood Artesia High coach Scott Pera and former Pioneer shooting guard Derek Glasser to Arizona State.

    Harden is a player that literally lights up the box score. A former McDonald's All-American (and the first one to join ASU out of high school since 1984), Harden is 5th in the conference in scoring at 18.8 points per game, 1st in steals, 14th in rebounding, 10th in free-throw percentage, 9th in minutes played and 10th in defensive rebounding. We expect to see Hackett and Lewis defend the 6'5", 210-pound Harden, and each must do their best to limit James' ability to get to the basket as well as watch his defensive ability to get into the passing lanes. Harden is virtually a one-man fast break for the Devils, grabbing steals and effortlessly converting on the other end.

    As Ted alludes towards, this game will be ugly. It will be a slow-down, half-court, grind-it-out type of game that will require the young Trojans to be very disciplined on both ends of the court, especially on offense. The Sun Devils are 1st in the conference in steals, 4th in blocked shots and 3rd in field goal percentage defense. They force a lot of turnovers, mainly due to the impatience of the other team when facing the "Princeton offense", and they do not turn the ball over often. ASU is 2nd in the conference turnover margin (+2.26) and 3rd in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.24 ratio). The Trojans, conversely are 8th and 9th in the aforementioned categories, respectively. Case in point: the Sun Devils January 3rd battle against high-scoring and turnover prone Oregon. The Devils forced 16 turnovers and had 10 steals in holding Oregon to 54 points, the lowest Duck scoring total in 61 games. Needless to say, USC must take care of the basketball if they hope to survive ASU.

    On defense, USC must stay with their assignments, talk to each other all night and fight through the constant screens that ASU will employ. The ASU offense emphasizes constant motion, passing, back-door cuts, and disciplined teamwork. It is designed to neutralize teams just like USC; superior athletic teams that can lose focus for whatever the reason (in the Trojans' case, youth is the reason). The offense is extremely slow developing and heavily relies on the passing game, so the opportunity for lapses in coverage will be there for USC. The Trojans, unlike their usual modus operandi, will be looking to force a lot of turnovers and get out and run in transition. This will be essential to getting ASU out of their comfort zone. If USC fails, Arizona State will beat them with easy shots off of back door cuts and wide open looks from the perimeter. Young guards Jerren Shipp and Ty Abbott each shoot over 36% from beyond the arc. Abbott, in particular, is the one to watch from deep as he likes to shoot from downtown and do so very often (over 7 attempts per game).

    In the end, the Trojans should have just enough to get past the Sun Devils. The Sun Devils are less talented and less athletic than USC, but that hasn't stopped ASU from defeating quality teams such as Xavier, Arizona, California and Oregon. But only the Cal win was on the road, a place where the Sun Devils are simply not as comfortable as they are at home. Because of their offense, ASU takes fewer shots than most of their opponents (ASU is 2nd to last in the conference in field goal attempts) and generally, the road rims prove to be less kind than the friendly confines of Wells Fargo Arena (Again, ASU has only played three road games, and lost two of them by 15 points each). Furthermore, as Ted notes, the Sun Devils have yet to get on track from the perimeter during conference play, shooting at a 28% clip from beyond the arc. This simply will not cut in the "Princeton offense", an offense that depends on some effective long range shooting to stretch the defense and free up cutters. No team has been able to get on track this season against USC when it comes to field goal percentage, and we do not expect ASU to be the first.

    Offensively, USC must move the ball around effectively and their ball handlers must not fall into their bad habit of picking up their dribble. USC is the more athletic team and players such as Mayo, Gibson and Jefferson should all be able assert themselves offensively if USC is effectively attacking ASU. Additionally, the Trojans will need to knock down their open looks against the steady Sun Devil defense, so it will be essential that Dwight Lewis and Daniel Hackett continue their recent hot-shooting trends.

    When it is all said and done, the defensive-minded Trojans and their experience in grind-it-out games should beat ASU this Saturday, despite the best attempts of Harden and Pendergraph.

    But it certainly will not be easy.


    USC 59 ASU 54


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