By Rich Ruben
The 12-3 Trojans return to the Galen Center this week after playing eight of their last ten away from home, and winning six of the eight. USC hosts Cal Thursday night at 7:30 and Stanford Saturday at 3:30. After two weekends of conference play, Stanford is the only undefeated team at 3-0. The Trojans and Bears, along with several other teams, have one loss. The race for the top four places and a bye in the conference tournament is wide open, and it looks like the Pac 12 title could come down to the last weekend. In this week’s AP poll, only Oregon at number 10 and Colorado at 20 are ranked. Stanford received the second most votes among “others”, and SC received 1 vote.
The Trojans low NET ranking of 68 is due in significant part to the two very lopsided losses to Marquette and UW. SC is one of only a few major conference teams with four true road wins.
Several Trojans have had a good first half to the season. Big O has scored over 20 points in six games and has only missed scoring in double figures twice. The most recent game against UCLA was his worst of the season. Nick has scored in double figures in six games and Jonah in ten. Daniel has reached double figures four times, including three of the last four games. The Trojan defense has been good to very good most of the season, and they have shot 100 more free throws than their opponents.
The Bears are only 8-8, but are improbably 2-1 in conference after beating both Washington schools at home last weekend. The game with the Huskies went to overtime, and may have been decided when Washington’s starting point guard Quade Green was ruled academically ineligible right after the Trojans lost in Seattle the week before. Cal’s NET ranking is 153, the lowest in the conference.
Comparing the two teams, SC scores 7 1/2 more points than the Bears, averages 6 more rebounds and defends the three ball better, but Cal is much better from the free throw line and the teams convert shots from the field at about the same percentage. The bigger Trojans block almost twice as many shots and SC has about double the number of steals.
Cal has been beaten up in several games. They lost to USF by 12, Texas by 17, Santa Clara by 19, Duke by 35, and to Stanford by 16 in their conference opener in Palo Alto. The Bears’ best win by far was the 61-58 overtime win over UW.
The Bears success has mostly been on the defensive end. They play at a slow pace on offense. Eight players average double figure minutes, but only five average 4 points or more per game. As a team Cal makes 44% of their shots, a respectable 36% from three, and 73% from the line. No one averages as many as 2 assists per game, and the team averages a very low 9.6 assists.
The breakout star for Cal is 6’4” sophomore guard Matt Bradley. He has increased his scoring average from almost 11 last year to 17.7 this season, though his three point percentage is down 11% to 36%. Jonah will likely draw the defensive assignment on Bradley. Their top rebounder is greatly improved 6’8” forward junior Grant Anticevich, who is averaging 9 points and 5.8 boards. He is also a very good 19-49 from three.
Texas A&M Corpus Christi grad transfer Kareem South has made a big contribution. The 6’3” guard is averaging 10 points. Though he is only shooting 40% from the field, he is a solid 36% from three. 6’11” Lars Thiemann is the tallest player in the rotation, but only averages 3 1/2 points and 3 boards.
Stanford swept their first three conference games at home, beating Cal, Washington and WSU, and have only played one true road game going into Wednesday night at UCLA. They won at San Jose State earlier in the season. They will have an extra day to prepare for the Saturday afternoon game at Galen.
The Cardinal are the biggest surprise in the PAC 12. Picked to finish in the bottom half of the conference, Stanford is 14-2 on the season, losing only to Butler by 1 and Kansas by 16. They beat Oklahoma by 17, UW by 6 and WSU by 26, and have a very high NET ranking of 11. The Trojans do not play the Bay Area teams on the road this year, so this is SC’s only chance to gain a win over Stanford and earn a nice bump in its NET ranking.
Stanford has been playing great defense, giving up only 58.3 points per game, the seventh lowest in the country. Eleven of its sixteen opponents have been held under 60. The Cardinal are winning by an average of 14 points. By comparison, SC gives up 9 more points per game, but plays at a faster pace. Stanford is ranked 113 in offense efficiency, but the Trojans are lower at 170. The Cardinal make 49% from the field and 38% from three, but only 68% from the line.
They are led by three quality players having very good seasons. 6’9” junior forward Oscar da Silva from Germany is having an all conference like season. He leads Stanford at 16.5 ppg and grabs 5.6 boards. He is making 61% of his shots and a very good 81% from the line. He usually plays inside, but has converted 7 of his 20 shots from three. He is often the only big man on the floor; none of the other Cardinal bigs play many minutes.
Stanford has one of the best freshmen in the conference in a year when the PAC 12 is loaded with very good first year players. 6’1” Tyrell Terry is averaging over 15 points, 5 boards and 3 assists per game. He is shooting the ball very well, making 47% of his shots, 42% from three, and 89% from the line.
6’3” junior guard Daejon Davis is the other member of the trio. His season has been a bit disappointing, with his numbers down across the board from last year, but he can get the hot hand and score in bunches. He is averaging 9 points and almost 4 assists per game, and is making 46% from the field and 42% from three. Surprisingly, he is only making 56% of his free throws.
I expect the Trojans to beat Cal by double figures on Thursday. The Bears do not have the talent to stay with the Trojans, and I chalk up their win over the Huskies to good fortune and home court advantage.
The Stanford game should be much closer. The Trojans will need good games from their guards, and a return to form from freshman Big O and Isaiah inside. SC will have a size advantage, but so did Washington, and the Cardinal were able to hold off the Huskies. One difference is that most of the UW inside play comes from freshmen, while SC has a very experienced big in Nick. Plus Stanford is largely untested on the road. A good crowd that supplies some energy would greatly help the Trojans. I think the Trojans defense will help cool down the Stanford big three, and SC’s size and athleticism will lead to a win. But in order to get the W, a lot of players need a good effort like at UCLA.
Saturday against Stanford the Trojans begin a string of games against teams with higher NET rankings. SC needs to begin this stretch with a win at home. The following week is back to the road at the Oregons for two tough games.
Look Back At Win Over UCLA
What a difference a week made! Andy said after the win in Westwood that Nick played like an All Pac-12 player, and Nick said he followed his worst game at Washington with one of his best. The same could be said for fellow seniors Jonah and Daniel. The Trojans also got a great game from one of their freshman, but it was Ethan and not Big O. Onyeka has now had two sub-par games in a row. To sweep this weekend, SC will need O and Isaiah to play well. They will also need good point guard play. Ethan had his best offensive half of the season on Saturday, and played with much more confidence. After playing a Bruin team which played very poor defense in the second half last Sunday, the Trojans will see much better defenses this weekend.