5:00 Sunday. The Metrodome, Minneapolis. CBS.
USC comes into the game with a record of 22-12. They finished the Pac 10 regular season with a conference record of just 9-9, with 6 losses in their final 9 games, but bounced back to beat Cal, UCLA, and Arizona State en route to winning the conference tournament and earning an NCAA Tournament berth.
The Trojans have a unique lineup. They start five players that are between 6’5″ and 6’9″ and between 200 and 225 pounds. And they rely very heavily on those five players. Against Boston College, only one other player (6’7″, 225-pound Leon Washington) played double-digit minutes–while three starters played all 40 minutes and another played 36 minutes. In their two previous games, no bench player hit the 10-minute mark.
Here’s a quick run-down on the starters:
- 6’9″ junior Taj Gibson is averaging 14.6 points (on 60.5% 2pt shooting), 9.3 rebounds, and 2.8 blocked shots per game. Gibson was named the Pac 10 defensive player of the year. He scored 24 points on perfect 10-10 FG shooting against Boston College.
- 6’5″ junior Dwight Lewis is averaging 14.3 points/game. Lewis is the team’s main 3-point shooting threat, shooting 38.7% on 142 attempts.
- 6’7″ freshman DeMar DeRozan is averaging 13.7 points/game, shooting 55.9% on 2-point attempts. DeRozan averaged 21.0 points/game in the conference tournament run.
- 6’5″ junior Daniel Hackett is averaging 12.3 points and 4.7 assists per game. He shoots 37.7% from 3-point range.
- 6’6″ sophomore Marcus Simmons is the only starter averaging less than 33 minutes/game on the season. He played lightly early in the season (partially due to an ankle injury). He’s started the last 4 games, but has scored a total of just 14 points in those 4 games.
In short, the Trojans are balanced, not at all deep, and very athletic. USC’s reliance on their athleticism is evident in their tempo-free numbers:
- They’re not great shooters (33.2% on 3-pointers; 66.8% from the line).
- Therefore, they take most of their shots inside the arc (339st in nation in 3PA/FGA)–and they make a lot of them (2pt% of 51.5% is 51st in nation).
- They don’t get their shots blocked; they rank second in the country in offensive block%.
- They only record an assist on 50.4% of their made field goals–indicating they tend to rely on individual playmaking to score.
- They tend to get fouled, but don’t foul a lot themselves (38th nationally in offensive FTR; 70th on defense).
- They rebound pretty well on both ends of the court (35th nationally on offense; 94th on defense).
- The block a lot of shots (20th nationally in defensive block%–large due to Taj Gibson), resulting in a 2pt% of just 44.1% for their opponents.
- They turn the ball over quite a bit, and they don’t create a lot of turnovers (200+ in TO% on both ends). (The fact that they don’t create a lot of turnovers doesn’t fit the athleticism-drives-everything theory very well, but it could be a function of the fact they don’t have any really quick, smaller players.)
It’s an interesting statistical profile. On net, USC is better on defense (15th nationally in defensive efficiency) than on offense (56th in offensive efficiency). The trick for MSU is going to be finding ways to score against a team that can match its athleticism. My initial take is that Kalin Lucas’ speed and Goran Suton’s length/savvy will be our biggest assets. If Walton/Allen/Summers/Morgan/Roe can just play even against USC’s athletes, Lucas and Suton could be difference makers. In a perfect world, those two guys would be able to create foul problems for USC and force them to use a player or two off the bench–players we presume are significantly less talented.
As best I can ascertain, USC is a man-to-man team that mixes in some “junk” defenses. In particular, Tim Floyd has a reputation for utilizing the triangle-and-two defense. It’s hard to see them employing that scheme against MSU, though, given that (1) we don’t have major outside shooting threats to clamp down on and (2) the passing skills of Suton/Roe/Morgan would be a major asset in breaking the defense down to create easy looks near the basket. So the question is whether USC has a more standard 2-3/3-2 zone it can play proficiently against us; I can find no information on this topic.
On the defensive end of the court, MSU should have a couple advantages. First, our man-to-man defense is designed to avoid letting players drive to the basket. By hedging toward ball-handlers, we try to force perimeter shots. And USC doesn’t appear to be a very good outside shooting team. The question is whether Suton, Roe, Green, and Gray will be able to stop USC’s athletes when they do get the ball into the lane.
Second, we obviously have a substantial depth advantage. We’ll be playing 10 guys; they’ll be playing 6. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Tom Izzo put full-court, man-to-man pressure (no trapping) on USC from the beginning of the game to try to wear down the Trojan players as the game goes on.
I worry about Raymar Morgan in this game on both ends of the court. He tends to struggle against players that can match (or exceed) his athletic ability. But he’s shown the ability to play a more limited, but still effective, role in those situations this season.
Kenpom predicts a 66-63 MSU win in a 65-possession game. My guess is that this game will be a defensive struggle. After playing a lot of games against teams with smaller lineups, the situation will finally be reversed in this game. USC ranks 4th in the nation in “effective height.” They’ll be able to match up with our front line, and they’ll have a size advantage in the back court. The MSU players will need to balance aggressiveness and intelligent decision making to score efficiently against the Trojans.
Due to their limited playing rotation, they play at a pretty slow tempo (adjusted tempo=64.6 possession). MSU will want to force the tempo. If ever there were a time to take advantage of our depth, this is it.
P.S. For a Trojan perspective on the game, check out Conquest Chronicles, the SBN USC blog.