Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Friday, January 17, 2014

2013-14 USC Basketball Preview #1

There's still time to get better, but Thursday night's effort against UCLA just wasn't good enough for the Colorado Buffaloes.  They struggled to keep pace with the Bruins all night long, having to work twice as hard for the same output.  Finally, midway through the second half, the dam broke, and UCLA raced home for a 69-56 win.  I expected as much, but that didn't make the reality of the situation any easier to digest.
Everybody having a good time?  No?  Okay then... From: the BDC
The holes left in the roster from injuries to Spencer Dinwiddie and Tre'Shaun Fletcher were brutally on display.  Without Dinwiddie, the offense devolved into a two-man show between Askia Booker and Josh Scott.  Without Fletcher, Colorado could do nothing but play small when going to the bench against the towering Bruins.  Accordingly, you saw 17 turnovers, second half shooting under 35%, and 15 allowed offensive rebounds.

I knew CU would be challenged offensively, but I'm starting to fear it might be worse than anticipated. Outside of Booker and Scott - who had truly fantastic nights, combining for 40 points despite getting the majority of defensive focus - seven Buffs combined to tally 16 points and 13 turnovers on 22% shooting. Somebody, anybody other than the remaining two stars needs to prove that they can score the ball, or the Buffs will struggle the rest of the way.
Ski was brilliant on Thursday.  CU will need more of that.  From: the BDC
Look, UCLA is a damn good team, and it's grossly unfair to blame the team for a loss to them, but the season doesn't stop because Spencer is wearing a #BUFFSTAPE shirt on the bench.  The world keeps spinning, and these kids need to find a way to grow up real fast before the things they've worked since August for slip from their fingers.

The real fucked up thing is I know these guys are better than they showed last night.  Xavier Johnson (who played through some tendinitis in his knee) and Wes Gordon certainly are, despite disappearing last night, and Jaron Hopkins and Xavier Talton have better days in front of them, as well. Given time, CU will learn to live with the roster they have, just, for the present, it's an ugly mess.


Turning my attention towards Saturday, the Buffs won't have long to work on righting the ship.  There's only about 40 hours between last night's horn and tomorrow's tip.  It's a 'better win' game against USC Saturday afternoon, too.  If CU can't pull one out against the lowly Trojans at home, the final two months of this season could get real long, real fast...

Tip off from the CEC is set for high noon on Saturday.  Televised coverage will be on Fox Sports 1, with the radio call coming from 850 KOA.

Click below for the preview...

When last we met - 

The lone bright spot for the Buffs in the early portion of the 2013 Pac-12 campaign was an ugly, struggling win over USC.  Thankfully, they had cruised through the opening half, because their second half effort (the Trojans outscored them 34-25) was losing basketball. They hung on, clinching the victory as outgoing USC coach Kevin O'Neil decided not to put the Buffs on the free throw line.  The 66-60 final was about as satisfying as fat free chocolate pudding, but at least CU got the 'W.'
Sabatino Chen and the Buffs managed just enough to push past USC last season.  From: the CU Independent.
Neither team really seemed to want to win this one.  USC, only days before seeing their coach fired, coughed up the ball 23 times.  Colorado, not wanting to capitalize on a good thing, went 14-26 from the free throw line.  In the end, it was a balanced offensive attack from the Buffs (four players finished in double figures) that saw them across the finish line.

If there's a lesson to take from this game, it's that nothing is as easy as you may want it to be.  On paper, this should've been an easy win, but the Trojans mucked up the game up enough to stall the Buffs in their tracks. It looks to be a similar story tomorrow afternoon.  Even with injury troubles, CU has more than enough talent to beat the Trojans.  You just never can tell, however...

The Trojans in '13-'14 - 

The Trojans started out the year innocuous enough, going 9-4 through non-conference play while avoiding any truly horrific losses (although their loss @ Long Beach State isn't exactly appealing).  Nothing much was expected from USC this season, so most just took it as par for the course.  Then, conference play began, and the Trojans simply blew up in everyone's face.  It has now become clear: these guys are the front runners for the league's basement.
It would help if you didn't draw the charge on your own player... 
It's no small thing that the Trojans are winless thus far in Pac-12 play.  In the most consistent stretch of opposing talent on their schedule to-date, they've failed to even get close to one of their conference foes. Combined, they've lost to UCLA, ASU, Arizona, and Utah 343-252, with their closest effort of the campaign coming in Thursday's 18-point loss @ Utah.  They're a significant step-below the rest of the Pac-12, probably even below Washington State (who can at least flop on the canvas for a few rounds).  You thought CU had it bad, just take a peek at these guys, and remember how good the Buffs have it.

How bad is it?  They're 11th in in-conference offense, 12th in defense.  They're averaging just over .88 points per possession (that's bad), while allowing over 1.22 (even worse).  The Pac-12 has been taking them out behind the woodshed.
The Pac-12 has been a no-fly zone for the Trojans in 2014
The culprit, as has been the case since CU joined the conference, is shooting.  These guys are master masons, capable of building a brick wall out of scratch with their heaves.  In conference play alone they're shooting 25% from behind the arc, with an eFG that tests the bounds of credulity.  Expanded, they're bottom dwellers for both three-point shooting (323rd nationally) and free throw shooting (333rd).  If they didn't shoot an abnormally high percentage of their shots at the rim (near 47%), they'd be hard pressed to ever crack 60 points.  They'll play fast, averaging about 72 possessions per game, but it's not a good kind of fast, if you know what I mean.

Defensively, they've been beyond porous against Pac-12 opponents.  USC has allowed 50% shooting over the first four conference games.  If there was ever a team to get offensively right against, it's these guys.  Get after it, Buffs.

Coaching - 

I'm sure this isn't how new Trojan head coach Andy Enfield expected his first season to go.  The hoop savant-du-jour following his magical run to the Sweet Sixteen at the head of the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles, he was supposed to bring 'Dunk City' to Los Angeles.  Instead, the Trojans have been a losing proposition in '13-'14, and an ugly one at that.
I think he looks like a goober, but whatever.
There is, after all, more work to do after you win the press conference.  For all his bluster, Enfield has yet to change much in SoCal.  Sure, it's only his first year, and the Trojans are playing some that resembles basketball (as opposed to the crap they put out there under Kevin O'Neill), but who cares how fast you go? Winning is what matters.  The simple truth is that Enfield hasn't proven himself to be anything but an opportunist, and my hopes aren't high for his tenure, especially in a conference filled with big fish on the sidelines and in the recruiting pools.

However, fulfilling a stipulation from my contract with the Blogging Devil, here's a picture of his wife, who, if you haven't heard, it's rather attractive.
Well played, sir.

Star Players - 

The most prolific player on the roster is 6-5 wing Byron Wesley.  With 17/8 averages, he's the only Trojan with any top-line weight, and has finished in double-figure scoring in all but two games this season.  He does a good job getting to the line (almost 100 attempts through 17 games), but rarely returns the favor, featuring in the top-100 in fouls called rate, despite playing in nearly 85% of available minutes. If USC gets going tomorrow afternoon, it's probably because of him.
Wesley is, by far, their best offensive piece.
Getting Wesley the rock are a pair of newcomers in Pe'Shon Howard and Julian Jacobs.  Howard, a senior season transfer from Maryland, has been a nice addition in the USC backcourt, averaging 10/3/4/1 in his first year running a team.  He can fall a little too far in love with his three-point shot, however, reducing his value. Jacobs is a promising freshman who has yet to find his stroke.  Once he cuts down on his turnovers (over three per game) he could develop into a serviceable Pac-12 point guard.

Up front, the Trojans feature a pair of towering forwards who ward off would-be rim-wreckers.  The big name is bulky 7-2, 270 lb center Omar Oraby.  The second year transfer from Rice is still making life difficult in the paint, averaging 9/7 each night to go along with nearly three blocks per game.  Were it not for Bachynski down at ASU, this guy would be the premier shot blocker in the conference.  Sharing the lane is 6-10 freshman power forward Nikola Jovanovic.  He's been putting up similar averages to Oraby (minus the blocks), hinting that he could have a nice career in front of him.
Oraby can get his hands on a few.  
The wild card now back in the deck is senior reserve two-guard JT Terrell.  A volume scorer in the original sense, Terrell hogs the ball and the shots (leads the team in possession and shooting rate) despite being a horribly inefficient player (under 90 offensive rating).  Still, those shots can, occasionally, hit their targets, making him a puzzle.  I'd bet against him posting anything better than a 'bad-Ski' night, but you do have to keep an eye on him to make sure things don't get stupid.

Prediction  - 

(My record on the season: 5-3.  Against the spread: 4-4.  Optimistic/pessimistic: CU +4.75 pts/gm)

Lines as of Friday night @ 5pm - CU - 11

Yeesh, I don't know.  The Trojans are not very good, but CU has more questions than answers at this point. In fact, I expect a game much like last year's: sloppy, sluggish, and frustrating.  Because I'd rather not dwell on the alternative, I'll say CU barely hangs on to win... but I wouldn't bet the farm on that.

CU 65 - USC 64


No comments: