Getting to Know the Pac-12: USC

Posted by Mike Lemaire on March 15th, 2017

Chances are, if you live east of the Rocky Mountains, you didn’t catch a lot of Pac-12 basketball this season. And we totally get it! When a Pac-12 matchup kicks off at 7:00 pm PST, the time difference makes it nearly impossible to stay up and watch for anyone who isn’t living on the West Coast. This means that while you may have heard plenty about Oregon and Arizona and UCLA throughout the season, you might still be unfamiliar with individual players that aren’t named Dillon Brooks or Lonzo Ball. But don’t worry, we are here to give you a quick primer on each Pac-12 team in the NCAA Tournament field just in time for those last-minute tweaks to your bracket.


Who are the stars?

USC has plenty of talent and a number of players with NBA futures, but they don’t have any true star talent on the roster. Junior point guard Jordan McLaughlin is probably the closest thing. He’s the team’s best player and very much the engine that makes the offense go. A gunner in his first two seasons with the Trojans’ (albeit an accurate one, as he shot better than 40% from beyond the arc), McLaughlin has evolved into an excellent playmaker and defender as well, finishing fourth in the conference in assist rate (31.4) and 12th in steal percentage (2.8). He is most fun to watch on the offensive end of the floor, where he has more than enough handles to attack the rim. He remains the team’s best chance to get a bucket out of an isolation set, so expect to see the ball in his hands a lot tonight.

Chimezie Metu is an NBA prospect because of his extreme athleticism. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Sophomore center Chimezie Metu isn’t a star yet, but he has brightest NBA future of anyone on the roster. Metu averaged more than 14 points and 7 rebounds per game while also providing tremendous rim protection on the defensive end. A legitimate 6’10”, Metu moves extremely well for a player his size, making him a high-upside defender who is versatile enough to step out and guard stretch forwards. He is still quite raw, but is making strides. Metu cut down on fouls over the course of the season and also made huge strides at the free-throw line, improving by 20 percentage points over last season. He still struggles to create his own offense, but his athleticism and ability to run the floor make him a highlight waiting to happen.

Fellow sophomore Bennie Boatwright is the team’s leading scorer at 14.6 points per game, despite being limited to just 16 games this season due to injury. Boatwright isn’t the same kind of athlete that Metu is, but he is a much more polished offensive player and also owns a skill-set that makes him an intriguing NBA prospect. Boatwright is a solid shooter from deep (36.2 3PT%), an above-average athlete, and a sensible decision-maker. He has scored in double figures in all but one game since his return and is shooting better than 90 percent from the free-throw line, so expect him to be a factor on the offensive end. However, he is a below-average defender who lacks the quickness to defend opposing wings. His size allows him to provide some measure of rim protection, but expect to see him shine on offense more than defense tonight.

Who are the role players?

Elijah Stewart shot nearly 40 percent from three-point range on 181 attempts this season, but that constitutes a down season by his standards. He only shot 34 percent from downtown in conference play after shooting 46 percent in conference games last season. Because Stewart doesn’t do much passing or getting to the free-throw line, his effectiveness is limited when shots are not falling. He hasn’t been quite as trigger-happy of late, but is always dangerous if he gets hot. Stewart is also a rugged defender who can hold his own against larger forwards in a pinch.

Elijah Stewart is the Trojans’ best three-point shooter. (Brian Rothmuller/

Jonah Mathews is at his best when he is providing instant offense on the wing. The problem is that for a shooter, he didn’t shoot it all that well this season. He made just 32 percent of his threes, 44 percent of his twos and 68 percent of his free-throws. To his credit, Mathews has kept himself in the rotation by taking care of the basketball and playing hard defensively. He and De’Anthony Melton have settled into an offense-defense timeshare off the ball. If Mathews is making threes, USC’s offense gets a shot in the arm.

Melton was one of the better freshmen in the conference this season and has the potential to be a Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year down the road. A solidly built 6’4″, Melton uses his strength and high basketball IQ to guard every position from point guard to power forward. He finished the season first in the conference in steal percentage (4.0) and 12th in the conference in block percentage (3.7). Melton is neither a terrific athlete nor a terrific shooter, weaknesses which render him a bit of an offensive afterthought, but he is a willing and heady passer.

Shaqquan Aaron’s best basketball is in front of him. A superior athlete with NBA size, Aaron has the skillset to be an All-Conference player down the road, but is still very raw on both ends of the floor right now. He shoots 34 percent from downtown, has almost as many turnovers (32) as assists (41) and has been a surprising non-factor defensively. This was Aaron’s first full season of college basketball and he’s often been lost in the shuffle, but his talent always makes it possible he delivers unexpected impact.

Who else plays?

6’11” center Nick Rakocevic will generally see between 10-15 minutes of court time and if he grabs a few rebounds and blocks a shot here and there without turning the ball over, USC will be happy. He has a penchant for foul trouble, which curbs his effectiveness; any points he scores will be purely a bonus. The only other player with a prayer of playing is senior forward Charles Buggs. Primarily used as a large body, he will only play if someone like Metu gets into early foul trouble.

mlemaire (324 Posts)

Share this story

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *