One more day and we get to go to East Rutherford for a shot at North Carolina. Just one more win and we get another week of Texas hoops talk, another week to dream about how good this team can be, another week to be on the short list of national title contenders.
It. Will. Not. Be. Easy.
USC has proven itself a strong team this year, and more importantly, proven itself the kind of team that can give this particular Texas team fits. Let's take a look at the 2006-07 Trojans.
The Trojans play four players over thirty minutes per game - Nick Young, Lodrick Stewart, Gabe Pruitt, and Taj Gibson. All average double figures in scoring per game, though Young is their leader at 17 points per game. Freshman Taj Gibson, a 6-9 forward from Brooklyn, may be their most dangerous weapon though. Gibson has nine double-doubles on the year, and finished with 18 points and 8 rebounds against Arkansas. His length and athleticism make him an ideal candidate to guard Kevin Durant.
USC is not a huge team inside, but they do have tremendous length among their perimeter players - a characteristic that should make Texas fans nervous. The Longhorns have struggled this year against teams with rangy guards, the Kansas State game being the best example. AJ Abrams and DJ Augustin struggle to defend bigger guards, allowing too many clean perimeter jump shots over the top of Texas' rotations in the zone defense.
USC played a very soft non-conference schedule, with the exception of a trip to Lawrence to face Kansas (which they lost by 10). Within the Pac 10, the Trojans finished 11-7 and made the finals of the conference tournament, where they were blown out by Oregon.
Keys To The Game
USC does two things exceptionally well: they defend the half court aggressively and they shoot the three point shot well (40%). The rest of their statistical profile is that of a middle of the road team, but those are two characteristics that make them a particularly tough draw for the Longhorns. AW and I agreed that this USC team reminded us a lot of the Kansas State team that came into Austin and stole a win. We're going to be in big trouble if USC's feeling hot from the outside. The keys to winning today:
- Use Winder If AJ Abrams is struggling with his shot or is struggling to get good looks over USC's lengthy defenders, Rick needs to be quick to insert Craig Winder into the game. We're all well aware of the problems that accompany Abrams on the defensive side of the ball; if USC's having a field day on the perimeter, we can't afford to leave Abrams in the game to be shot over. Defense is as, or more, important than offense today.
- Use Timeouts Watching the Xavier-Ohio State game yesterday, I was thrilled with the way Muskateer head coach Sean Hill managed his timeouts. He blundered at the end of the game by not putting Ohio State on the line when Xavier was up three, but his use of timeouts to collect his team, buy rest, and manage the flow of the game was something to behold. USC's not a very good offensive team - if they get on a mini-run, Rick would be wise to squash their momentum right away with timeouts. Seriously, Rick, the rules are crystal clear - you can't take any leftover timeouts to East Rutherford.
- Use Durant This one's obvious, of course, but let me clarify exactly what I mean. The Trojans are a team that are capable of muscling around DJ Augustin. The Longhorns struggle on offense when Augustin's driving into the lane against teams that are built to stop that. USC is one such team, which means the flow of the offense needs to run through Durant. If USC decides they want to double and triple team him, Kevin's gotten better and better at finding open teammates. Even if USC goes balls to the wall on stopping Durant, we need things to go through him.
- Use The Fast Break One thing the Trojans don't do exceptionally well is collect offensive rebounds. That's good news for Texas, who struggle mightily with teams that can create second chances for themselves. Assuming that holds true today, the Longhorns need to push the pace and take advantage of transition points. There's no better transition offense in the country than Texas', and that's a fact. The Longhorns get points incredibly quickly off of rebounds; they need to take advantage today and avoid a half court battle. If things get slowed down into a grinder, that's an advantage for USC.
- Use Your Head Limiting turnovers is a great way to beat USC, and we'll need to be efficient in this regard today. The Trojans are unerdogs, and should be, but they're plenty capable of hanging around and pulling off the upset if Texas is giving away possessions. If we take care of the ball and get one of Augustin's better games, we can advance.
PB's Pick: Texas 75 USC 70
AW's Pick: Texas 77 USC 73
Final Score: USC 87 Texas 68
Last, since I just don't have time to preview it, but because AW and I are making official picks for each of these games, our Kansas-Kentucky predictions:
The Line: Kansas -8
PB's Pick: Kansas 79 Kentucky 70
AW's Pick: Kansas 73 Kentucky 64
Final Score: Kansas 88 Kentucky 76