GameNight: USC vs San Francisco

December 1st, 2008
Dec 1 2008 - 10:30pm

Preview & Prediction: By Evan Dorey



-- Evan Dorey's game previews & rankings are based on Elo Ratings. Elo Ratings are fairly simple, all teams are assigned an initial number of points, which is the same for all teams, eliminating preseason bias. Then, as the season progresses, when a team wins it gains points, and when it loses it drops points. The amount of points that are gained or lost depend on the level of the opponent (beating a cupcake gets you little, beating #1 will be a big increase), the scoring margin of the game (which is capped), and the game’s location. To take a look at Evan's College Basketball Elo Ratings, visit his website or blog where he discusses the rankings along with other statistical observations about big games and interesting teams.


With the preseason holiday tournament giving way to a less crowded schedule this week, the games put up for our post-Turkey day consumption aren’t quite as compelling as they have been.  One worth keeping an eye on tonight is #86 San Francisco (5-1) traveling to LA to face #74 Southern California (4-2).


The Trojans have had an up-and-down start to the season, losing two games against power conference opposition in Puerto Rico, but winning their four home games fairly comfortably. The Dons’ only loss came at Cal, but it was fairly tough, and none of their five wins to date have really impressed. They are a team that probably look a lot better by my rankings than they will in a game situation, but they are still among the better opposition to travel to USC’s building so far.


A typical Tim Floyd team builds strength from the defense first, and this year’s edition looks to be no exception. As was the case last year, the Trojans’ defense depends on their ability to prevent shots from going in, especially inside, while controlling the number of fouls they commit in the process. One of the more interesting facets of the Trojans so far this season has been their showing on the boards, both offensively and defensively, as they have recovered a much larger portion of misses than they did in the 07-08 campaign. Tim Floyd’s teams tend to play slow, and don’t press for steals much. San Francisco’s offense is their strong point, with, as is the mid-major stereotype, three-point shooting being critical. The real problem for San Fran in this game will be the glass, as they just lack the size to compete on either end with USC’s rebounding. They will need to be very efficient and limit turnovers, which have been a problem, to score enough to stay close.


Defensively, USF have been a bit of a mess so far. They are among the worst in the nation at defending threes, and tend to give up a lot of chances on the offensive glass. The one piece of good news for the Dons is that Southern Cal give up plenty of possessions themselves through turnovers, and shoot very few three-balls, and are very bad shooters when they do. However, USC should be able to press the issue inside, where they are average, if not particularly strong scorers


USC have only a single senior who has been on the floor this season, and even then only as a sixth or seventh man. This is a young but very talented team. At least on ESPN, USC seems to be attached to the name DeMar DeRozan,  but the freshman has struggled so far, shooting poorly and coughing up the ball a little too often. The real guy that should be mentioned with USC is forward Taj Gibson, whose foul trouble against Missouri was a significant factor in that loss. Gibson is efficient, about a 55% shooter who knows not to take threes (not a single one in three years), and is part of the domination of the glass that the Trojans have had this year. He has hit double digits in every game, and if they can get him somewhere in the range of 15 shots or more, they can be a very effective offensive team. A couple of junior guards are also important in Dwight Lewis and Daniel Hackett. Lewis is a decent scoring  option as a shooting guard, while Hackett should try and shoot less and distribute more, and also needs to control turnovers in a way he failed to in the Missouri loss.


The good news so far for the Dons is that a couple of their newer players seem to have integrated quite well, as juco transfer Blake Wallace has come in and been a good inside and outside shooter who is capable of chipping in on the glass as well, while freshman guard Kwame Vaughn has displayed a strong shooting touch from inside the arc, considering he’s only 6-3. They add these pieces to two solid returnees, guard Manny Quezada, who put up 27 against Cal and has been a decent 3-point shooter throughout his career, along with being a good ball control and passing point guard, and forward Dior Lowhorn, an honorable mention CHN Mid-Major All-American. Lowhorn is an offensive force, averaging 20 points per game last season, and doing it with some decent efficiency. He also crashes the boards well, and while he will be outmatched against USC’s interior players, any hopes the Dons’ have will surely include a big night from their main star.


Alright, I feel I’m on pretty safe ground with picking an easy USC win in this one, but the Trojans are a team I’ll be watching closely given their poor showing in Puerto Rico. USC’s four wins have been over teams with a combined 3-15 record against Division I opposition, and with a red-hot Oklahoma team being the Trojans’ next opponents, they will need to find some form, especially on offense to have a good shot in that game. It will also be another good test for the Dons, who look to face one of the toughest conference seasons they’ve ever had with three very good teams in the WCC. I wouldn’t be too surprised to see the game stay close even as far as halftime, but USC will be able to pull away to a double digit win in the end.


Winner: Southern California     Margin: +10