This week, the USC Trojans men's basketball team (9-8, 1-4 Pac-12) will play its first road games in nearly three weeks, as they travel to face the Oregon Ducks (12-6, 2-3) and the Oregon State Beavers (12-5, 3-2) on Thursday at 8:00 p.m. PST and Saturday at 3:00 p.m. PST. The Trojans are coming off a three-game home stand in which they defeated California (71-57), before losing to Stanford (78-76) and UCLA (83-66).
Aside from the second half against UCLA, USC played much better basketball over the past couple weeks than they did on their road trip to Utah and Colorado to open Pac-12 play. On that trip, the Trojans were outscored 165-120 and thoroughly dominated in both games. In fairness, though, the "mountain trip" may be the hardest of any this season in the conference. Despite a strong start for Oregon State, the competition this week should be a bit easier.
USC did win its only true road games in non-conference play (at New Mexico and Boston College), so it's not like they haven't had any success away from home this season. After a week of practice following the putrid second half against the Bruins at home, in which they were outscored 47-35 and absolutely dominated on the boards, it will be interesting to see how Andy Enfield's young Trojans respond. The teams they face couldn't be more different in terms of style and pace of play, as we discuss below. With that, let's take a look at USC's two opponents this week.
Just like the Trojans, the Ducks are coming off consecutive losses. However, unlike USC, theirs were on the road. They fell 108-99 to Washington State in overtime before losing 85-77 to Washington. The Ducks went 2-1 on a three-game home stand to open conference play, defeating Oregon State (71-59) and ASU (59-56) with a loss to Arizona (80-62) sandwiched in between.
Point guard Joseph Young is second in the Pac-12 in scoring (19.4 PPG). He is coming off an up and down road trip in Washington, in which he scored 32 against Washington State (13-of-25 FG, 5-of-9 on 3PT) while only putting up eight points (3-of-12 FG) against Washington. USC has used a fair amount of zone this season, but if they go man, expect Katin Reinhardt, Julian Jacobs and maybe Jordan McLaughlin to get the bulk of the duty guarding Young.
Coach Enfield would be smart to rotate defenders at the explosive guard. Freshman forward Dillon Brooks is their second leading scorer at 13.5 per game and also pulls down 4.9 rebounds per game. Oregon is very athletic, as usual, and their outstanding head coach Dana Altman mixes up his defenses frequently. Their biggest player who gets extended minutes is freshman Jordan Bell (6'9", 190 pounds), so it will be interesting to see how the Ducks deal with USC big man Nikola Jovanovic (6'11", 230 pounds), who has 12 double-digit scoring games in a row and who has put up 20 points in two of his last three contests. Expect a lot of zone and double teams in the post from Oregon. They lead the Pac-12 in scoring with 77.8 PPG and, like USC, will look to push the pace.
OREGON STATE OUTLOOK
First-year head coach Wayne Tinkle has the Beavers playing well and surprising people early in conference play. Since dropping their conference opener at Oregon 71-59, the Beavers have reeled off wins in three of their last four games, including a home victory over No. 7 Arizona 58-56. They are coming off a split in Washington (lost to Washington 56-43, beat Washington State 62-47).
As much as Oregon likes to run, the Beavers prefer to slow things down. They are last in the league in scoring (64.4 PPG) and eighth in field goal percentage (43.8). Their defense has carried them, evidenced by the fact that they hold teams to 36.6 percent shooting, which is good for second in the Pac-12.
The Beavers don't have a star and only seven players average more than nine minutes per game. Their leading scorer is junior point guard Gary Payton II (11.8 PPG), who is in his first year at his father's alma mater after transferring from Salt Lake Community College. The most astounding statistic about Payton II? He is only 6-3 and still is averaging 8.5 rebounds per game! Almost 30 percent of the rebounds are on the offensive end. He only averages 2.9 assists and makes less than a third of his three-pointers.
Guard Langston Morris-Walker (10.9 PPG) and forward Victor Robbins (10.3 PPG), who will be serving part of his 10-game suspension against USC, also average double-figure scoring for the Beavers. Junior Olaf Schaftenaar (6'10", 224 pounds) is their only good three-point shooter (42.6 percent) and could be a tough cover on the perimeter for Nikola Jovanovic.
At the same time, Jovanovic should have his way down low. Possessions will be at a premium, so USC cannot afford to turn over the ball at a high rate, something they have struggled with at times. Oregon State leads the conference in steals (7.71) and is third in turnover margin (2.12). The Beavers are 10-0 at home.
- USC is last in the Pac-12 in free throw percentage at 64.1, but they have improved immensely over their last three games. In their first two Pac-12 contests, USC was just 7-of-16 from the line (43.8 percent). In the three-game home stand, the Trojans were 48-of-61 (78.7 percent). On top of that, they are getting to the line more (average of eight free throws the first two games, average of 20.3 the last three).
- USC has averaged 71.5 points per game in the last 10 games, after averaging 62.3 points in the first seven contests.
- USC has lost its last eight games against Oregon, but prior to that had won seven of nine. They have lost four in a row in Eugene.
- Freshman Malik Marquetti had made just two three-pointers coming into the last game. Against UCLA, he knocked down all three of his three-point attempts and scored 10 points, the first double-figure scoring game of his USC career.