By Rich Ruben
The Trojans are 9-2 and 3-1 in conference play after the UCR squeaker. UCLA is undefeated and on top of the conference, while Stanford and Oregon are tied for second at 4-1, and the Trojans are a half game behind them. USC remains 16th in the NET ratings, which is a little surprising after the game long struggles against UCR. This week provides the opportunity for two more conference wins and for the Trojans to find their outside shot. If last week’s Arizona trip was possibly the toughest road trip this season, this week’s home stand against the Washington schools on paper looks like the easiest home pair of games. That said, the lesson from the overtime win on Tuesday is that the Trojans are not good enough to overlook anyone.
Preview Of The Washington Huskies
It was not too long ago that many Trojan fans openly complained that USC made the wrong choice when they hired Andy Enfield instead of the other finalist, then Syracuse lead assistant and now Washington head coach Mike Hopkins. In his first two seasons in Seattle the Huskies won over 20 games and in the second year finished 27-9 and won both the conference regular season and tournament. Those teams were built on a core of players Hopkins inherited when they were juniors: Matisse Thybulle, David Crisp, and Noah Dickerson all fit into Hopkins’ system very well.
It has not been very smooth for the coach in the last two years. Last year’s Huskies were led by two five star freshman forwards who are now in the NBA yet the Huskies finished the season 15-17 and in last place in the Pac 12 at 5-13. Husky fans were quick to point out that they lost their point guard, Quade Green, in December and didn’t recover and some believed they would reverse course this season.
There is another team playing in the PAC 12 located in LA which has played without its point guard most of this season and they seem to be doing pretty well. Green is playing this year and the Huskies are 1-9 and winless in five conference games. A UW sports site summed it up a few days ago: “Huskies hit rock bottom in 84-76 loss at Cal.” That loss left UW all alone at the bottom of the league. The Huskies shot a season high 52% against Cal and 50% from three but the Bears made 55% of their shots.
The Huskies Are A Very Poor Offensive Team
UW has made 39% of its shots this season, which is 320th out of 345 Division 1 teams. They are making 26% of their threes which ranks 330th and the Huskies average 63 points per game, 317th best.
Individually the Husky leaders are mostly struggling. Quade Green is now a senior. The 6’0” guard transferred from Kentucky and big things were expected. He averages 15.5 points to lead Washington but has made only 40% of his shots and 28% from three. He has done very well from the foul line at 88%.
6’6” junior guard Jamal Bey is averaging 7.3 points and has shot well. He’s made 44% of his shots, a very good 47% from three but only 68% from the line.
6’3” guard Erik Stevenson averages 6.7 points and is shooting 31% from the field and from three, but a very high 82% from the line. He transferred from Wichita State where he started for two years. Stevenson tried to single handedly beat Cal. He was 7-9 from three and finished with 27 points. That game pumped up his averages, which were much lower before. Stevenson scored much better at Wichita and the Cal game may have revealed a new Stevenson.
The Huskies have reasonable size with red shirt sophomore 6’11” Nate Robert’s, 6’9” senior Hamir Wright and former Trojan 6’9” junior J’Raan Brooks. Robert’s leads the Huskies averaging over 7 rebounds and also averages 6 points. He has made 54% of his shots and 60% from the line.
Wright averages 4.5 points and is making only 27% of his shots and 16% from three. Brooks has not thrived in Seattle. He is averaging 3 points and 1.4 boards in 10 minutes per game. He has taken only three shots from beyond the arc and made one.
UW’s Zone Has Not Been Effective
Hopkins brought the Syracuse zone to Washington and it was very good the two years defensive star Thybulle played the middle at the top of the key. He was great in anticipating passes and his long arms allowed him to get a hand on many balls and generally wreak havoc on opposing teams.
This year the Huskies are a very average defensive team. Their defensive stats rank average to below average nationally in all categories.
Preview Of The Washington State Cougars
The Cougs are 9-2 and 2-2 in PAC 12 play, beating Oregon State and Cal. They are led by second year head coach Kyle Smith. Smith previously led USF and Columbia. Last year WSU finished 16-16 overall and in eleventh place in the league at 6-12. They were led by CJ Elleby who was a very good scorer and had a number of big games. Elleby was picked in the middle of the second round by Portland in the delayed NBA 2019 draft.
The Cougs have built their record this season in part by playing the second weakest non conference schedule among power 5 conference teams. Their strength of schedule is 157, and is only that low due to playing four conference games. The Trojans’ strength of schedule was 29 before the UCR game. WSU plays UCLA on Thursday before the Saturday game at Galen.
The Cougars Are Built On Defense
WSU is giving up only 62 points a game, the 27th fewest points in the country. They rank 20th in defensive efficiency. USC is not far behind. Prior to the UCR game the Trojans were giving up 63.7 points (39th fewest) and ranked 33rd in defensive efficiency.
WSU Has Struggled To Score
The difference in the teams is on the offensive end. The Cougars have made only 40% of their shots, 33% from three and 67% from the line. They hope their defense keeps them in games.
The leading scorer is 6’5” senior guard Issac Bonton, who transferred to WSU from Casper College and is now in his second season with the Cougs. He is a high energy player and very quick for his size, but is a sporadic scorer. Bonton leads the team averaging 17.7 points but is making only 36% of his shots and 29% from three. Last year he got hot in a few games and when he shoots well the Cougars are much tougher to defend. He is making 67% of his foul shots, though he converted 83% from the line last year. He also averages 5 rebounds, 4 assists and over 3 turnovers.
The second leading scorer is 6’5” sophomore guard Noah Williams. He averages 12 points and his assist to turnover ratio is a good 2:1. He has made 45% of his shots, 49% from three and 71% from the line.
6’10” freshman center Efe Abegidi may be a future star. He is averaging 10.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2 blocks. He has made 50% of his shots and 48% from three, but only 50% from the line.
Sophomore forward Andrew Jakimovski is from Ukraine and is averaging 8 points and 5.5 boards. He is only making 35% of his shots and shoots better from beyond the arc at 39%.
Perhaps the most interesting player is 6’6” forward DJ Rodman (yes, he is Dennis’ son). DJ’s sister plays for WSU and just announced she is making herself eligible for the WNBA draft this spring. DJ went to JSerra High School in Orange County. He is averaging 5 points and almost 3 1/2 rebounds. Rodman makes 39% of his shots, 33% from three and 89% from the line.
The Trojans have a lot more talent than the Huskies and unless Stevenson or someone else has a big game USC should win. USC can’t take UW too lightly, though. Washington has been better on offense in the last couple of games. The Trojan defense has been very solid and should handle the Huskies, but if the Trojans don’t fix their outside shooting problems this game may be closer than expected.
USC has a lot more fire power offensively than WSU and the Cougars will be playing an opponent who can match their defense. If Bonton has one of his periodic big games this could be a struggle if the Trojans still can’t make threes.
The return of Ethan Anderson will help the Trojans a lot on both ends if he actually does return this week and is in condition to play near his ability. He has been out for 5 1/2 weeks. His presence would give the Trojans their best and quickest perimeter defender. On the offensive end he is a capable ball handler who can drive and dish to give more space to the shooters outside and has a floater in the lane. He can make the occasional three and last year Enfield ran back door lobs to him at rim. Ethan is a much better athlete than he appears at first glance and is willing to do anything to win.
If Ethan does return it will be interesting to see where his minutes come from. If he is able to start it’s a good guess that he will replace Isaiah White in the lineup. Depending on who is having a good game and how well Ethan is playing it’s likely that he will take some minutes from Tajh, Drew, and Isaiah White.
I’ll take the Trojans to sweep this weekend; depending on how well they shoot, the games could be close or the Trojans could win by big margins.