By Rich Ruben
The 10-2 Trojans play their final non conference game against Andy Enfield’s former team, the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles, on Sunday at 7:00 at the Galen Center. Pac-12 play begins on January 2 at Washington State, followed by road games at Washington and UCLA, before USC returns home to host the Bay Area schools in mid-January.
One of the Eagles two returning leading scorers, senior guard Christian Carlyle, was injured over the summer and will miss the entire season. Without him, FGCU has struggled to a 3-11 record. VCU, the only “name” school the Eagles have played, beat the Eagles by 30, and the Eagles also lost by 19 to South Dakota State, an earlier Trojan opponent. The game on Sunday is the Eagles’ first against a Power 5 opponent.
Michael Fly is in his second year as the FGCU head coach, leading the Eagles to a 14-18 record last year. Fly was an assistant on Enfield’s staff before Andy left for Troy. FGCU was picked to finish third in the Atlantic Sun Conference by both the media and coaches, but those predictions were made before it was known that Carlyle would miss the entire season.
Breaking Down The Eagles
The Eagles have trouble scoring. FGCU’s starting lineup resembles LSU and starts a 6’9” center surrounded by four big guards. The comparisons end there, however; the Eagles do not approach the skill or athleticism of the Tigers. The Eagles’ average 61 points, shooting only 37% from the field, 29% from three, and 70% from the line.
Junior center Justus Rainwater averages 6.7 points and 3.7 rebounds per game. He is shooting 56% from the field but makes only 35% of his free throws. The leading scorer is 6’4” sophomore forward Zach Scott who averages 12.4 points and 4.4 rebounds. He shoots a poor 34% from the field and from three, but makes a very high 89% from the free throw line.
The other two top guards are 6’5” sophomore Caleb Catto and 6’3” junior Jalen Warren. Catto averages 10.4 points, 4 boards, 2.6 assists and 2.2 turnovers. He is shooting only 34% from the field and 30% from three, but makes a very high 91% of his free throws. Warren averages 9.2 points and 3.3 turnovers and assists.
Breaking Down The Trojans
The Trojans are shooting 45% from the field and 35.6% from three. These numbers are fairly average, but have been improving of late. Where the Trojans really struggle is at the line, making only 66.3%. Onyeka Okongwu and Ethan Anderson make 70.8% of their free throws. Everyone else who averages at least one attempt per game shoots under 70%, and Nick Rakocevic, Isaiah Mobley, and Elijah Weaver all convert only 58% of their free throws. If this poor shooting from the line continues, it will likely cost the Trojans a game or two.
The outside shooting has been getting better in the last several games, particularly Jonah Mathews and Daniel Utomi. Jonah has been very good from three over the last four games, and has raised his percentage from three to 39%, though he is shooting a slightly lower percentage from two. Ethan Anderson made two crucial threes late in the LSU game, and fellow freshman Kyle Sturdivant made two threes in the first half when the Trojans were struggling to score.
SC has had trouble matching good offensive games from the front court and the guards. Big O is averaging a team leading 17.7 points, 9 rebounds, 3.2 blocks and 62% from the field. But even his production has been uneven, mixing big games with 20 or more points with other games where he struggles to get shots due to double teams.
As a team, the Trojans are out scoring their opponents by 6.7 ppg (a figure which would be a full two points higher without considering the Marquette game), and average 4.6 rebounds and 4 assists more than their opponents. The defense has generally been good. Opponents are shooting 39% from the field and 34% from three.
Nick has now scored 1109 points in his career for 32nd place on the all time SC list. He has 764 career rebounds for 10th place, only three behind Wayne Carlander who is 9th.
Jonah has 1126 career points and is one point behind number 30 Don Carfino. He has 207 career threes, 11 behind fourth place Brandon Granville, and 39 behind all time career leader Elijah Stewart. It is interesting to note that Bennie Boatwright is also in the top 5 in career threes, which demonstrates how three point shooting is a major part of Andy’s offense.
This is a game that the Trojans should win handily. Hopefully the staff will keep the team from looking ahead and focused on continuing to improve. They need to decide how to get the ball to Big O to enable him to beat double teams and get his shots, continue the recent improved shooting from three, and figure out how a team of good shooters can begin to make their free throws.
The staff also needs to determine how to divide playing time between Elijah Weaver and Daniel Utomi, and whether Max Agbonkpolo can add another source of consistent outside scoring and break into the rotation.
Look Back At LSU
The Trojans showed a lot of guts and determination in chasing down the Tigers and then holding onto the lead for a very big win. They got significant outside scoring from the freshmen point guards. It will be interesting to see if future opponents give the point guards open threes in favor of doubling the bigs. And we will see whether the three point shooting from Ethan and Kyle was a one game performance or whether the two freshmen can now be counted on for more outside scoring production.
LSU brought quick double teams when the ball got inside to Big O and Nick and limited their shots. How will the Trojans game plan to get shots for the team’s most consistent shooters? The Tigers gave future opponents a roadmap to defend SC, at least for teams with athletes like LSU’s, and the Trojans will face teams with similar athletes in many of the upcoming conference games.