For the first time since a December 3rd matchup against Texas in Austin, a USC basketball game will be televised - this time on Fox Sports West. However, the Trojans may not like too many people to tune, as they take on 9th ranked Tennessee, causing many pundits nationwide to predict a blowout in favor of the Volunteers. But still, there is a chance, albeit a small one, for Kevin O'Neill's bunch to earn an upset after the group was competitive against the second-ranked Longhorns earlier this month. Here's a short preview from the Los Angeles Times:
Update: USC has won two straight games since consecutive defeats to ranked teams on the road. Tennessee has won four straight since its only loss of the season, a 73-72 defeat to then-No. 5 Purdue in the final of the Paradise Jam. The Volunteers return five starters from a 21-win team a year ago and lead the Southeastern Conference in scoring (84.1) and scoring margin (23.9).
It has been eight days since the Trojans last suited up for a game, so as a result, there have been a few minor changes to the lineup
- Senior point guard Mike Gerrity, who transferred from Charlotte and played at Pepperdine earlier in his career, will finally be eligible after the NCAA granted him a "progress towards degree" waiver. Highly-regarded for his excellent ball handling skills, the Mater Dei product will take over the starting point guard position from Donte Smith, who has started all eight games so far.
- Freshman forward Evan Smith, who has become a valuable contributor off the bench, will miss this afternoon's game after suffering a mild concussion during practice last Tuesday. He also missed the Sacramento State game a week ago after contracting bronchitis.
- Sophomore point guard Percy Miller, who was serving as the backup to Smith during Gerrity's absence, is questionable for the game because of an AC joint sprain in his left shoulder that was aggravated about a week ago.
- While Gerrity is now eligible to play, the Trojans are still waiting for sophomore Leonard Washington to become elgible as well, but unlike the senior point guard, he was not granted a waiver and must wait until the team's December 31st matchup against Arizona to finally take the court.
So tonight's starting 5 should look something like this:
Much like the games against Texas and Georgia Tech, today's matchup will provide this group with a learning experience and opportunity to grow as a unit against tough competition. But still, the goal is clearly to come away with a victory, and there a few things the Trojans can do to put themselves in a position to do just that.
- Take care of the ball. There is no question that the Achilles heel of this team has been their knack for turnovers. So far, they rank last in the Pac-10 in this department, but with the return of Gerrity, there is reason to believe that progress could be made.
- Slow the game down. This is extremely important for two main reasons. One, the Trojans don't have a ton of depth so if they're forced to play a high energy, up-and-down contest than it's certainly foreseeable for their players to get sluggish during the second half. Two, Tennessee is one of the highest scoring teams in the country and excels in transition. The Trojans fail in both categories, as they are not known for their scoring and are far more half court-oriented team. Playing at that pace, would be the quickest way for them to put themselves out of the game.
- Stay out of foul trouble. The Trojans will need their two big men, Alex Stepheson and Nikola Vucevic, to play close to 40 minutes, as Tennessee relies on an athletic front line for a lot of their scoring. Once again, the Trojans have a thin bench so if either Stepheson or Vucevic get in foul trouble early, it could be a long afternoon for O'Neill's crew.
Prediction: As much as I'd like to see, I simply can't envision a scenario in which USC is able to pull off the upset, primarily because Tennessee is such a quality basketball team that is more than deserving of their top ten ranking. I think this will be similar to the Texas game, in which the Trojans are competitive for the first half, until the Volunteers blow it open with a strong second half. So in the end, I think Tennessee rolls 73-57.