By Rich Ruben
The Trojans are home from Connecticut and are getting ready to play the UCI Anteaters on Tuesday; the Trojans won’t play again until next Sunday. The Trojan players and coaches know they let a winnable game against UConn get away. Every game matters more this season than ever, as the season started later and there will be four less scheduled games for every team and no one can predict whether games will be cancelled due to Covid. Scores of games around the country have already been impacted including the scheduled matchup between number one ranked Gonzaga and number 2 ranked Baylor.
UConn’s scheduled game on Saturday aganst North Carolina State was also cancelled when one Wolfpack player tested positive. If a UConn player had had a positive test it might have impacted the Trojans’ next few games.
UCI Game Preview
The ‘Eaters play in the Big West with many of the other California non football playing public schools such as Cal State Fullerton, Long Beach State, UC Riverside and the like. UCI is 2-2. They lost to Pepperdine by 14 and to a good San Diego State team by 19. Their two wins have come against lower division schools by large margins. UCI beat NAIA La Sierra, which is located in Riverside, by 50. They also crunched Anaheim based Bethesda of California by 80; they play in something called the National Christian College Athletic Association. I never heard of Bethesda of California before.
It’s a difficult to get a read on the ‘Eaters since the player stats are heavily impacted by the one sided games against the two lower division schools. Ten players are averaging 13 minutes or more per game but only one, guard Isaiah Lee, averages over 20 minutes. This may be the result of an effort by the staff to get a lot of players more minutes in the one sided games or it might be how UCI will use their bench this entire season. The team is shooting 54% from the field and 39% from three. They also are making 74% of their free throws.
The four leading players for UCI are all making over 59% of their shots. 6’11” center Brad Greene may give the Trojans some problems. He weighs 270 pounds and is averaging over 12 points and 6 rebounds. Guard Dawson Baker, a 6’3” freshman, is averaging 11 points and 3 assists. Sophomore forward Austin Johnson has good size at 6’9”. He’s been successful on 2/3 of his shots and averages 8.5 points and a team leading 7.8 boards.
The most interesting player might be 6’9” sophomore forward Collin Welp. Welp is the second leading scorer at just under 12 per game and averages over 5 rebounds. His father is the former University of Washington great Christian Welp who is the all time leading career scorer at UW and was a first round draft pick of the 76ers. He played three years in the NBA and went on to a long career in Europe. Christian passed away in 2015 at the age of 51.
The Trojans are 3-1 and are ranked 49th in the latest KenPom rankings, which are based on a series of analytic formulas. In comparison, UCI is number 147. There is no word yet on whether starting point guard Ethan Anderson will play on Tuesday. He was sorely missed in the loss to UConn. In the first four games team assist and turnover numbers are not good. The Trojans are averaging 12.8 assists and 13 turnovers. The assist average is impacted by having only 4 assists in the loss to UConn. The team has made over 48% of its shots but a poor 62% of its free throws.
Evan Mobley is leading the Trojans with 16.5 points per game (almost exactly what Big O averaged last season). He is playing a team high 34 minutes per game and has made 61% of his shots and leads the team with 2.5 blocks per game. Older brother Isaiah leads the team averaging 10 rebounds and leads with 16 offensive rebounds in the four games, three more than Evan. Isaiah has converted on 42% of his shots but only a very poor 43% of his free throws. His main problem from the line is the same as last season; most of his misses are long off the heel of the rim. So far he has not been able to correct this problem.
Noah Bauman and Isaiah White each have 4 offensive rebounds. Noah has made almost 48% of his shots, but he and Max Agbonkpolo are a surprising combined 3-18 from three. They should be the team’s best shooters from beyond the arc. Drew Peterson (13.3)and Tajh Eaddy (10.8) are both scoring in double figures. Drew has made a very high 61% of his shots and Tajh a good 47% from the field and very high 87% from the line.
Look Back At The Legends Classic
It is hard to imagine the Trojans have ever played two game in three days where the team’s performed so differently. In the rout of BYU the Trojans team and many individual players played at or near their best potential. Ethan Anderson played only a few minutes in the first half due to back spasms but he wasn’t missed. All of the other nine players had good games, particularly in the second half when everything they did on both ends was working. The defense looked like last season’s defense and Evan, Drew and Tajh all scored in the high teens. The BYU guards were not quickwhich helped the Trojan defense. BYU coach Mark Pope said USC’s size was a problem for the Cougars. It was one of the more complete performances in Coach Enfield’s eight seasons at USC.
In most respects the three point loss to UConn was the opposite. When you limit the opponent to eight made baskets in the second half of a game you should come out with a W. Enfield made a good in game adjustment from a man to a zone defense after the Huskies got off to a hot start and the zone was very effective resulting in another good overall defensive performance. At the other end the Trojans struggled to score and had problems on the boards. Some analysts have commented that the Trojan rebounding problems were caused by playing a zone where it is harder to block out and more prone to give up offensive rebounds. While that comment is accurate as a general matter the Trojans were losing the battle of the boards before they switched to the zone, and they gave up 15 offensive rebounds in the BYU win in which the Trojans played zone defense on only a few possessions.
When the Trojans were at their best last season they usually had a high number of assists compared to made baskets. Against the Huskies the team combined for only 4 assists, three from center Evan Mobley. They clearly missed Ethan Anderson who is the team’s best ball handler and takes charge and runs the offense. Ethan has earned Enfield’s trust.
The Huskies played a physical game and the Trojans struggled. Last season Big O was a physical presence inside and Jonah Mathews was an elite perimeter defender. So far the Trojans have not found comparable replacements. Evan Mobley is more of a finesse player. He intimates interior shots by his length and leaping ability as compared to Onyeka’s physicality and ability to get off the floor quicker than anyone he played against. Isaiah Mobley is playing more physically and harder so far this season and we’ve seen Chevez Goodwin and Isaiah White play physically in spurts. The Trojans need to want the ball more when a shot goes up on either end and on drives to the basket hold their position and take a charge.
This Trojan team is still developing. Six of the ten players are new and one more red shirted and did not play last season. Undoubtedly there will be growing pains, especially since pre season practices were limited. Last year Pac 12 teams played 18 conference games and 13 non conference. The league games began at the very end of December. This year the teams will play only 7 non league games and 20 against conference rivals. Next Sunday the Trojans host Stanford and some conference games have already been played.
To reach their potential the Trojans need to find more consistency, play more physically and find ways to more frequently get the ball inside to Evan Mobley.
WeAreSC Player Of The Week
After the BYU game it looked like there would be three players who could possibly win the player of the week award. Evan Mobley, Drew Peterson and Tajh Eaddy all had big offensive games in the win over the Cougars. In the first half of the game against UConn Tajh was a non factor, but Evan and Drew carried the Trojans on offense. Drew was a no show in the second half and it became very clear that Evan is last week’s prestigious Wearesc Player of the Week, which honor was won by his brother the week before.
Evan played 37 minutes and led the team in points with 19 against the Huskies and he had 7 rebounds, and 3 of the team’s four assists. He had 17 points and 11 boards in the win over BYU.
As well as he has played in the Trojans’ first four games the team will need more from Evan for the Trojans to be a factor in this year’s PAC 12 race. He needs to demand the ball down low and shoot before a second defender can get there, shoot through or over the double team, or find open teammate. Having him come out to the three point line to receive a pass lets the defense off too easy. Evan needs to be stronger on the boards at both ends and along with Isaiah make life miserable defensively for opponents’ big men. Evan has great skills; no one can accuse him of playing poorly in any of the first four games but now the coaches to push him to do more.
It is very hard to know much about UCI without having seen them play; the averages over the first four games are very suspect because they played two games against very inferior opponents. One key might be that they lost to San Diego State by about the same margin as UCLA lost to the Aztecs. UCI’s center is much bigger than anyone the Trojans have played and his size and bulk could create some problems.
Regardless, the Trojans should win this game by a comfortable margin even if Ethan Anderson is not ready to return on Tuesday.