USC - FIRST LOOKThe USC Trojans entered this road trip ranked #25 in the country - its first ranking since 2002 - and full of optimism. Last night's big loss at Stanford knocked them back a peg, as the Lopez twins completely dominated the game on both ends. Brook Lopez had 12 blocked shots, which for purposes of comparison is more blocks than the entire Cal team has had in conference play.
Last year Cal owned the Trojans, sweeping the season series and then winning by 15 points in the first round of the Pac-10 Tournament. These are very different teams, however - Leon Powe and DeVon Hardin obviously aren't available to torment the Trojans inside. For its part, USC has added its own super freshman in Taj Gibson. Gibson (left) is very much the key to USC's improved defense, which ranks seventh in the country (according to Pomeroy). The Trojans hold opponents to a 39.5% shooting percentage (3rd in the nation). Gibson's ability to block and alter shots has allowed SC's defense to extend on shooters and limit good looks from the perimeter - Gibson is 82nd in the country in block percentage (again, according to Pomeroy).
Aside from Gibson, the Trojans are a familiar lot. Gabe Pruitt (right) returns to Haas for the first time since L'affaire Victoria - he sat out the first part of the season with academic difficulties, but is now back to rain threes down upon the rest of the conference. He's the USC career leader with 131 three point shots over his two-plus year career. Senior Lodrick Stewart starts alongside him in the backcourt - he has shot very well from three but can also slash to the basket. Nick Young plays a wing - he's a 6'6" junior who is SC's best pure scorer (17.2 ppg) but can become a bit of a black hole. Against Stanford last night he went 5-19 from the floor.
The Trojans start Abdoulaye N'diaye at center. He's not much of an offensive presence, but plays tough inside defense and averages 15.6 mpg. Off the bench, the Trojans' best player is freshman Daniel Hackett, a 6'5" guard who leads the team in assists with 61. Fellow freshman Dwight Lewis is yet another 6'5" guard who is more of a scorer than Hackett. Keith Wilkinson and RouSean Cromwell are two sophomores above 6'10" who will relieve N'diaye and Gibson in the front court.
USC is not a great matchup for the Bears - but then, who is when you're dressing only eight scholarship players? USC doesn't have a true point - their expected starter Ryan Francis was tragically murdered in the off-season in his home state of Louisiana. As a result, the Trojans have been occasionally vulnerable to turnovers, and they can fall out of a good rhythm offensively - they've scored fewer than 60 points in their last two outings. Cal will need to bring it on defense and limit second shots to keep the score at a manageable level to have a chance of winning on Saturday.