Date: Wednesday, 1/30/19
Tip-Off Time: 8:00 pm PT
Radio: KOMO 1000 AM/97.7 FM and TuneIn
Location: Seattle, Washington
Betting Line: Washington -7.5
USC 2018-19 Statistics
Record: 12-8 (5-2)
Points For per Game: 77.7 (62nd)
Points Against per Game: 72.3 (176th)
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 107 (101st)
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 98.8 (95th)
Strength of Schedule: +1.54 (107th)
USC Key Players
C-Nick Rakocevic, Jr. 6’11, 225: 15.8 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 1.7 bpg, 55.9% FG, 68.7% FT
The former 3-star big man has understandably seen his efficiency drop a little bit with a much greater workload but he is still a contender for Pac-12 player of the year and leads the conference in rebounding. You can bet that Noah Dickerson’s #1 priority in this game will be getting Nick in foul trouble or else he’ll give UW serious problems on the offensive glass.
F- Bennie Boatwright, Sr. 6’10, 235: 17.0 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.4 apg, 47.3% FG, 39.8% 3pt, 72.9% FT
It’s hard to believe Boatwright stayed for all 4 years of college given he was a projected 1st rounder for much of his time but injuries kept him out of the lineup just enough. He’s fully healthy now though and beat ASU with a game winning 3 in the closing seconds. Boatwright is a mismatch with his shooting ability at 6’10 but has also been a much better playmaker with 17 assists to just 4 turnovers in conference play. Expect USC to put him in the high post against the zone and let him go to work.
G- Shaqquan Aaron, So. 6’7, 195: 9.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.4 apg, 42.7% FG, 36.8% 3pt, 64.4% FT
Aaron has never met expectations from when he was a 5-star recruit out of Rainier Beach headed to Louisville but he’s settled in as a solid role player who can knock down open shots and be the 4th option. His playing time has essentially doubled this season and he’s hitting a career high in 3-pt percentage.
G- Jonah Mathews, Jr. 6’3, 200: 12.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.4 apg, 42.7% FG, 39.8% 3pt, 65.7% FT
Mathews might be USC’s most important player as he leads the team in minutes and 3-pt shooting and is also their best perimeter defender. He’s doubled his assist rate this year while keeping his turnovers basically constant and is much less of a catch and shoot specialist. Expect to see him tracking Jaylen Nowell all night.
G- Derryck Thornton, Jr. 6’3, 195: 8.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 5.1 apg, 40% FG, 28.3% 3pt, 69.4% FT
Thornton continues to struggle as a scorer but he’s been a much better passer this season. Last season he had more turnovers than assists but this season he has a better than 2/1 A/TO ratio.
USC Shot Chart
It’s not unreasonable to say that USC is the 2nd hottest team in the conference, as depressing as that statement may be. They are currently sporting a 3-game winning streak over Arizona, Arizona State, and UCLA who are probably 3 of the 5 most talented teams in the conference (although all 3 games were at home). Their only 2 losses in Pac-12 play are at the Oregon schools who are also in the top half of the conference in overall talent. And they just got back 5-star Kevin Porter Jr. back from injury/suspension.
It looked like depth might be USC’s calling card entering the season but Jordan Usher transferred, Charles O’Bannon has missed all but 10 minutes due to injury, Kevin Porter has mostly been out, and J’Raan Brooks hasn’t gotten much playing time. That means the Trojans starting 5 have all played at least 70% of the team’s total minutes this season and USC ranks just 302nd in the country in bench minutes.
On offense, the Trojans are fairly well balanced although they shoot relatively better from outside of the arc than they do from inside of it. A lot of teams have adopted the Houston Rockets “only 3’s and at the rim” philosophy but that’s definitely not the case for USC. They love their mid-range shot, especially long 2’s, which really brings down their overall percentage. That’s the shot that the Washington zone is trying to get their opponent to take and normally teams are uncomfortable with it. The Trojans will gladly shoot it from there and while they may be comfortable, it’s still unlikely they hit a high enough percentage to make the Huskies regret their strategy.
I worried greatly about facing Tres Tinkle last Saturday and Bennie Boatwright is a very similar player although he’s not quite as good of a passer as Tinkle. He has had some huge games against Washington in the past (average of 17.2 ppg vs. UW). I expect him to generally occupy the high post and with his 6’10 frame he won’t be as worried as the average player of having Matisse Thybulle block his shot from behind.
A large amount of USC’s offense may come on second chance points via Nick Rakocevic. With Noah’s struggles in conference play Nick has taken over as the most dominant big man in the Pac-12. But he’s averaging 22.6 points per game in USC’s 5 conference wins and had just 17 total in their 2 losses. If Nick gets in foul trouble then USC either has to shift Bennie Boatwright to center, when he prefers to play like a small forward, or bring in 6’11 Victor Uyaelunmo who is shooting 30% from the floor and the FT line combined. Yikes.
The Trojans have been solid but not quite spectacular on defense this season. They’ve been very good at shutting teams down on the interior (33rd in 2-pt% against) mainly because they’ve forced teams into shooting midrange shots rather than getting all the way to the cup. USC ranks in the 93rd percentile defending against the pick and roll so it’s unlikely that Washington is going to have a lot of success in that regard.
The biggest weakness for USC is defending in isolation particularly against the point guard position as USC ranks in just the 27th percentile nationally in isolation possessions and Derryck Thornton grades out as their worst defender. This may be a game where David Crisp and/or Jaylen Nowell have to create for themselves in order to score and eventually open up shots for everyone else. Expect a heavy dose of Noah Dickerson early as well because of the importance of getting Rakocevic into foul trouble.
As significant as every game is for Washington’s NCAA hopes, I want them to win this one for one specific reason. To show local high school players that you’re wasting your time going down to USC after the Trojans poached Kevin Porter and J’Raan Brooks last year. Washington is loaded with talent the next few years and if Coach Hopkins can set up a fence then there’s enough talent to compete with USC and Arizona even if they put up top-5 recruiting classes with SoCal talent.
The Huskies have to be on alert because USC is absolutely capable of winning this game now that they’re closer to full strength. This version of USC looks different than earlier in the year but the Trojans are still just 1-5 in games away from home with the lone win coming against #164 Missouri State on a neutral court. If Washington plays anything like the team we’ve seen over the last month then they should be able to handle this one.
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