Thursday, Dec 3, 2009, 8:00 PM CST
Big 12/Pac 10 Hardwood Series - Frank Erwin Center
KenPom Ratings: Texas #1 (#9 AdjD / #1 AdjD)
Las Vegas Line: TX -21
Texas looks to improve to 3-0 in the Pac 10-Big 12 Hardwood Series tonight, when USC make its first visit to Austin since 1985. The Trojans own a 5-4 lead in the all-time series, having edged ahead with their win over the Longhorns in the second round of the 2007 NCAA Tournament. Technically, this means that USC is responsible for the end of the Kevin Durant era at Texas. So f___ them. Let's win by 35. For KD, you know.
Hell, Texas might do just that. Tim Floyd is gone, OJ Mayo is rich, and USC's already dropped two games this year, including a home contest to Loyola Marymount. The Horns, meanwhile, maintain their top spot in the Pomeroy Ratings for a 16th consecutive day, which is the longest streak ever for Texas atop KP's rankings. The previous high was zero.
Game notes and keys to the game are after the jump.
USC TROJANS AT A GLANCE
Conference: Pac 10
Record: 2-2 (USC Game Plan)
Last Season: 22-13 (9-9)
Starters Lost/Returning: 3/2
Coach: Kevin O'Neill (1st year)
Good bye Tim Floyd, and with him, three early entrants to the 2009 NBA Draft -- Taj Gibson, DeMar Derozan, and Daniel Hackett. Hello... Kevin O'Neill? Apparently so, which makes him the Kevin Bacon of basketball. What's this, his sixth coaching job?
With just two starters returning, O'Neill is basically starting from scratch, having lost the three to the NBA and all but one of Tim Floyd's incoming recruits. Senior Dwight Lewis (6-5, 215) led the team in scoring last year with 14.4 points, adding 3.3 boards, 2.1 assists, and 1.1 steals per game. He's a solid all-around player who does a lot of things pretty well, though nothing great. He's long and has a nice mid-range game, presenting a difficult match up if you try to guard him with a smaller guard. Sophomore Leonard Hamilton also returns, but he won't be starting tonight, or any time until later this month, when he returns from academic ineligibility.
So it's Lewis and four other starters, the most impressive of which so far has been sophomore forward Nikola Vucevic (6-10, 240), averaging 14.4 points and 10.3 boards a game. Senior (6-6, 210) Marcus Johnson is the probable starter at the other forward spot, but junior Alex Stephenson (6-9, 235) has been more productive, coming in off the bench. The UNC transfer returned home to be closer to a sick family member and has been productive, including a 13 point, 12 rebound, 3 block effort in a loss to Nebraska.
And that's pretty much it. The remaining two backcourt starters (Donte Smith and Marcus Simmons) have been terrible, scoring little and turning it over a lot.
KEYS TO THE GAME
- Halfcourt offense. The Trojans are outmanned, badly, and Kevin O'Neill will do what he's been doing all year long: grind games to a near-halt -- 61.5 possessions per game so far this year (337th nationally). Fewer possessions will amplify the cost of mistakes and wasted chances, so if you're betting on Texas to cover the spread, hope that Texas can make a post-entry pass or two tonight. Or that USC scores 40 points. Which could happen.
- Shot selection. I'm cheating here, but hey, getting the halfcourt offense caught up with the defense is all that stands between Texas and cutting down of nets, so its importance can't really be overstated. The Horns have been mixed in this regard so far this year, with some impressive runs interspersed with frustrating dead stretches when they seem to lose focus. If they ever put together a complete 40-minutes of excellence, some poor team is going to lose by 60. Literally.
- Make a @#*&$! free throw. The freshmen made all of theirs against Rice. Everyone else shot blindfolded.
PREDICTION: TEXAS 73 USC 49