Hype Music for the Evening: "Life is hard on the road" by Bang Camaro:
Unless you are a diehard Rock Band aficionado, like myself, it would surprise me to learn you have ever heard of Bang Camaro before. A ridiculous combination of nostalgic 80s hair metal and upwards of 20 dudes singing in chorus, BC is a novelty, but a well-loved one in my collection. This track, aptly about the difficult life on the road, is perfect for a key road trip to SoCal. Enjoy!
Tip-off from the beautifully appointed Galen Center is set for 9pm this evening. Coverage is on ESPNU, so there's a good chance you will have something in common with the broadcasters -- neither them or you will actually be in the arena! To hear from someone who, guaranteed, will be in Los Angeles, check out Mark Johnson and the radio call on AM 760.
Click below for the preview...
When last we met -
There were times last season where I openly pondered "what has to happen for this team to get a road win?" The last meeting between Colorado and USC answered that rhetorical question: Askia Booker has to get medieval, and drop a historic amount of points.
Playing in his home town, just minutes from the courts where the human jitterbug learned the game, Ski went off for 43 to almost single-handedly drag the Buffaloes across the finish line for their first road win in eight tries (they would add another in Seattle before season's end). Colorado needed every one of those points, too, as USC was holding on for dear life on their home floor. Locked in a war of attrition, the two teams would battle on through three overtimes and six player disqualifications, stretching nerves and rosters thin. CU, however, had the trump card - Booker - and kept playing it at just the right moments to secure a 98-94 win. For the first time in an otherwise miserable season the sighs uttered across BuffNation were ones of satisfied exhaustion, rather than frustration.
|Ski would not be denied against the Trojans last winter. From: the BDC|
About the only thing that could slow Booker down was a cheap shot from brutish USC center Nikola Jovanovic. On a fast break with eight minutes to play in the second half, the galoot threw a shoulder and a leg into Ski, sending the point guard flying. While he got up, and only sported a bruise after the game, the assault had its desired effect. The spark plug was shaken, failing to score down the stretch, and committing a trio of turnovers in the immediate aftermath. As a result, Colorado as a whole would go on a nearly 15-minute long drought without a made field goal. The refs, particularly clueless in a game marred by questionable officiating, only awarded a common foul. Askia would have the final laugh, however.
|Booker was never better than he was in those overtimes. From: CUBuffs.com|
It's a little unfair, but Ski's 43 overshadowed some encouraging efforts from his teammates. Down two starters, with Jaron Hopkins joining Josh Scott on the inactive list with a bum ankle, the team needed others to step up. Xavier Johnson returned to the lineup for the first time in weeks to chip in 12/5, including the game-tying three pointer in the final minute of the first overtime. Freshman forward Tory Miller, who had been performing exceptionally well over the last few weeks, submitted his first career double-double (11/13), which featured five huge points in the final frame of overtime to supplement the Ski-splosion. Without them, and the little efforts chipped in by the other six Buffs who saw the court, the outcome would've been completely different.
|Xavier Johnson returned to the court, and played a major role in extending the action. From: the Post|
The Trojans in 2015-16 -
Here are USC's season and conference records the last four seasons:
- 2011-12 - 6-26 (1-17)
- 2012-13 - 14-18 (9-9)
- 2013-14 - 11-21 (2-16)
- 2014-15 - 12-20 (3-15)
But, while they had been floundering between the collapse of the Kevin O'Neill era and the start of the Andy Enfield one, they were quietly stockpiling talent behind the scenes. Incoming freshmen and transfers sat through the losing, secretly developing into something worthwhile. While the rest of us mocked, they prepared. And so, when the curtain raised on the 2015-16 season, those outside of the program were in for quite the surprise.
|The Trojans rising above the Shockers was the first hint that USC had improved. From: KSN.com|
But, more than just wins, Southern Cal is playing exciting, entertaining basketball. They race up the court on every possession, getting shots off an average of about 15 seconds after getting the ball in their hands, and score an exemplary number of points. #2 in the conference, scoring about 81 per contest, they're averaging efficiency numbers around 1.13 points per possession. Really strong stuff. They combine a seasoned shooting touch (39% from deep) with an exuberant sense for sharing the basketball (nearly 16 assists per game) and a nose for transition (top-40 nationally in shots on the run). I'm not kidding, this is a really good offensive team, without the ugly downside of, say, the Washington Huskies.
|Smiling faces have returned to the Galen Center. From: Scout|
I'm not saying USC is going to win the conference or the upcoming tournament in Vegas, or anything like that, but they are a very good basketball team, easily capable of beating anyone (particularly on their home court) on any given evening. The one deep knock I have on the Trojans is youth. They're 309th in average experience, according to KenPom. There's not a senior to be found in their ten-man rotation, and it has shown, at times, this winter. That just means, though, that this roster of exciting youth could have Southern Cal in position to continue their parabolic upswing in future seasons.
Star Players -
At the top of the attack for the Trojans is a pair of point guards who love to play off of each other. Sophomore Jordan McLaughlin and junior Julian Jacobs are a dangerous mix of athleticism, scoring prowess, and distributing awareness, one that any team in the league would be happy to boast. They each average 12 points and five assists per game, while adding in a handful or rebounds. The pair compliments each others' strengths very well, and patch the weaknesses where appropriate. If the #TadBall dream is to have multiple point guards on the court at any one time, then USC is living it with this pair.
|Jacobs has been the difference maker this season. From: the LA Times|
|McLaughlin can flat ball. From: Pac-12.com|
Up front, the team is anchored by 6-11, 235 big man Nikola Jovanovic. The galoot best remembered for dropping 30 on CU last season, along with his dirty take-out of Ski, is back for his third season in crimson and gold, and is really coming into his own. A double-double threat, he is one of Southern Cal's best scorers, while also standing as their best individual rebounder. His overall importance to the roster has only been emphasized as backup power forward Darion Clark has been out with a shoulder injury.
|Jovanovic is becoming a really solid post player. From: Zimbio.com|
I'm starting to think I may have been wrong about Andy Enfield. I had viciously mocked the former Florida Gulf Coast coach each of the previous two seasons, only to realize a little too late that he might just have a notion on how to rebuild the once-sinking Trojan ship. "Dunk City" has finally come to Los Angeles, and, as promised, it is entertaining as hell.
|Maybe Enfield isn't simply a flash-in-the-pan beneficiary of a fluke fortnight of hoops. From: USA Today.|
My record on the year: 10-3. Against the spread: 7-5-1. Optimistic/pessimistic: CU -1 pt/gm)
Lines as of Tuesday @ 8pm - CU +9, O/U 151
CU's saving grace here may be a combination of the rebounding numbers (USC is pedestrian in protecting the defensive glass) and the Trojans' low turnover rate (261st nationally, 9th in Pac-12 play). If you allow Colorado to not only control the glass, but also keep the basketball, you're playing with fire.
Unfortunately, the turnovers will come. Of course they will. And every silly mistake with the rock will only fuel the Southern Cal attack, allowing them to speed progressively faster and faster. Throw in their defense of the three point arc and the inability of opponents to get to the line with any consistency, and I really struggle to see where the Buffs will get their points. Overall, I expect something more akin to the Oregon game in Eugene than anything joyous; give me USC going away. Blech.
USC 82 - CU 70
GO BUFFS! PROVE ME WRONG, AND BEAT THE TROJANS!