Rushed Reactions: #3 Baylor 82, #11 USC 78

Posted by Chris Stone (@cstonehoops) on March 19th, 2017

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Chris Stone (@cstonehoops) is in Tulsa this weekend.

Johnathan Motley, who was stellar defensively, put up big numbers in Baylor’s win over USC. (J Pat Carter/Getty Images)

Three Key Takeaways

  1. Baylor dominated the interior. The Bears did what they always do and took care of business in the paint on the offensive end. Junior Johnathan Motley finished with 19 points and junior Terry Maston added 19 of his own. As a team, Baylor finished with 40 points — nearly half of their total — in the paint. The Bears also managed to grab 14 offensive rebounds to help extend possessions and create extra scoring opportunities. USC’s zone defense helped open up opportunities for their opponent to crash the offensive glass. This is the second big performance for Maston — he also put up 19 points in Baylor’s opening round game against New Mexico State.
  2. USC made up for it with threes. The Trojans didn’t go away quietly, though, finding opportunities to exploit Baylor’s defense — whether zone or man — from behind the three-point arc. As a team, USC finished 9-of-22 (40.9%) from deep and it was Bennie Boatwright and Elijah Stewart who led the way. Boatwright hit 4-of-9 triples while Stewart made three of his six attempts. The three-point shot can be a great equalizer in basketball as it opens up the game offensively and puts an extra point on the board. Against Baylor, Chimezie Metu was the beneficiary of the extra spacing. He finished with 28 points.
  3. Manu Lecomte was the hero. With Motley on the bench with four fouls, Baylor coach Scott Drew made a surprising decision to play a smaller lineup. The Bears have spent most of their time on the court this season with two traditional bigs, so this was a big departure for their norm. Drew was rewarded by point guard Manu Lecomte. The junior had struggled for most of the game, but found an extra gear during its most crucial stretch. He scored eight of his 12 points during a 46 second stretch to help build Baylor’s lead.

Star of the Game. While Motley’s stat line was a bit better, this award has to go to Terry Maston for his second straight important performance off the bench. In addition to his 19 points, the junior grabbed nine boards and collected a pair of steals. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Tournament Prospectus

Posted by RJ Abeytia on March 15th, 2017

The Pac-12 ended up with fewer seeds in the NCAA Tournament than the ACC, Big 12, SEC, and Big 10.  Of course, it was always quality (Arizona, Oregon, UCLA) and not quantity for the Conference of Champions this season. Outside of the ACC, no conference has three teams being hailed as legitimate Final Four threats.  The questions this time of year focus on where you’re trending and your presumptive path. By the time you get to a National Semifinal you are certainly going to be playing a great team, or at the very least a team playing like one. Those games match up as coin tosses in most cases, so let’s focus on which of the four Pac-12 teams who qualified has the best shot of reaching Glendale.

Do Allonzo Trier and Arizona own the Pac-12’s best chances of reaching the National Semifinals? (Photo: USA Today Sports)

USC

  • Trending Up:  Jordan McLaughlin is averaging nearly 17 points a game over his last four and has a stellar A/TO rate of 31/6 over those four games. Guard play takes center stage in the NCAA Tournament, and if the Trojans are to make more than a cameo in the round of 68, they’ll need McLaughlin to keep playing at a high level this week.
  • Trending Down:  Since posting a stellar 156 ORtg against Washington State in March 1, Bennie Boatwright has slumped to games with offensive efficiency ratings of 88, 102, and 83 amidst an 8-28 field goal shooting stretch.  USC is not a great offensive team and they struggle in the halfcourt; without Boatwright at max efficiency working to stretch defenses and convert in the paint, USC isn’t long for this week.
  • Final Four:  The Trojans were on a three-game winning streak before UCLA dispatched them in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 Tournament. USC didn’t make it easy for the Bruins, however, and in the last four games found an offensive groove, posting efficiency ratings well over national average in its three wins. The loss to UCLA showed they could hang with an elite team despite subpar performances from Boatwright, Chimezie Metu, and De’Anthony Melton. Coming off a loss, it’d be wrong to say the Trojans are streaking, but they are playing good ball.

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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.

USC

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. Read the rest of this entry »

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Stance and Communication: UCLA Takes Baby Steps on Defense

Posted by RJ Abeytia on February 23rd, 2017

There is no lack of self-awareness within UCLA’s basketball program. Head coach Steve Alford made that clear Saturday night after his Bruins throttled crosstown rival USC at Pauley Pavilion. Alford was candid about his team’s initial refusal to heed his cries of defense, and he really broke down his expectations in the clearest possible form. “It took the loss to Arizona and the loss to USC to really grab the guys’ attention… our focus, our stance, our activity… we’ve been talking to the guys about stance and talking since Australia [summer trip]. The stance is making progress, but the talking still has a lot of growth yet.”

But Can UCLA Defend is the Key Question (USA Today Images)

In the macro sense, UCLA has improved defensively over the past five games. Cumulatively, they have put together a Defensive Rating of 95.9, far better than their Pac-12 average of 105.1. In three of those five games, opponents finished with less than a point per possession. But what about the eye test? Against USC, the Bruins seized control in the final eight minutes of the first half. Holding the Trojans scoreless on four straight trips played a big role in that separation. How much credit do the Bruins deserve for USC’s drought? Let’s take a closer look:

8:18: Aaron Holiday misses a runner driving left, and the Trojans secure possession. The first thing UCLA does well is get back upcourt. At the moment that Jordan McLaughlin has the ball, three Bruins are 90 feet from the bucket. The Trojans’ Elijah Stewart bursts up the court, but Lonzo Ball sprints along with him, eliminating any long-distance passes. By the time McLaughlin crosses midcourt, the Bruins are fully back and set into their defense. McLaughlin then drives left and initiates a handoff to De’Anthony Melton. He probes the left elbow, and as he does, three Bruins track the ball and are poised to defend drive, pass or shot. On the weak side, Ball and Thomas Welsh watch the ball and their men. Melton backs away from the lane after getting cut off by Gyorgy Goloman, which gives Isaac Hamilton time to recover and cut him off from the left. Melton makes a bounce pass that gets deflected and ultimately stolen by a diving Holiday.

This was an excellent defensive sequence that featured good defensive stances, positioning, aggression and communication.

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Is This Season the Dawn of an L.A. Hoops Renaissance?

Posted by RJ Abeytia on February 22nd, 2017

USC basketball, much like UCLA football, has a long tenure in the City of Angels as the “other” program at its respective university. UCLA Basketball, while not having won a National Championship since 1995 and not having appeared in a Final Four since 2008, remains the King in one of the country’s most fertile basketball talent grounds. Disregarding the clear hierarchy, there hasn’t been a compelling reason why the Trojans couldn’t carve out a reputation for its own place in the high-level college basketball landscape. Ultimately, such a thing comes down to the coach and the money. With the first decade of the Galen Center now in the rear view, USC has clearly established a financial foundation for success. Now with Andy Enfield guiding the Trojans to what should be a second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, it seems as if USC basketball is finally re-establishing itself as a perpetually successful program.

USC’s faithful on the hardwood might be on to something. (USC Athletics)

The question of whether Los Angeles’ Pac-12 schools are in the midst of a basketball renaissance hinges primarily on whether there was a concurrent stretch of basketball glory in the first place. The 2010-11 season was the last time that both teams qualified for the same NCAA Tournament, but USC’s loss in the First Four and UCLA’s defeat in the Second Round didn’t move the needle much nationally. Both programs also danced at the same time for a three-year stretch from 2007-09, although Ben Howland’s run of three straight Final Fours from 2006-08 vastly outshone Tim Floyd’s 2007 trip to the Sweet Sixteen. Since their departures, however, it’s been a struggle for both programs — USC, primarily — to regain elite status. Read the rest of this entry »

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Should We Be Taking USC More Seriously?

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 14th, 2016

When USC rallied to beat Texas A&M, it was good luck. When the Trojans squeaked past SMU a week later, it was thanks to Bennie Boatright. When they beat BYU a week after that, it was because the Cougars really aren’t that good and the game was in Los Angeles. These are all logical ways to rationalize dismissing USC’s hot start, but the fact remains that the Trojans are just one of six unbeaten teams remaining in Division I basketball and a group that was picked to finish seventh in the preseason Pac-12 standings is rebuilding faster than anyone imagined. Of those six teams sporting flawless records, most smart basketball minds will tell you that Andy Enfield‘s team is easily the worst of the group. KenPom agrees. ESPN agrees. The Trojans are off to their best start in more than 40 years and CBSSports.com barely included them in this week’s Top 25. The conventional wisdom is that, while USC’s early success deserves some attention, the Trojans still aren’t worth taking all that seriously yet.

USC Basketball is Soaring -- Has Anyone Noticed? (USA Today Images)

USC Basketball is Soaring — Has Anyone Noticed? (USA Today Images)

USC feels like a prime candidate for regression to the mean once the rigors of conference play begin. The Trojans own three resume-building wins by slim margins, but a non-conference slate that will include just one game outside California doesn’t impress anyone. Enfield’s roster is one of the 20 least experienced nationally and his best player is expected to be out of the lineup for at least another month. Still, there’s a lot to like in Troy. USC has used more than good fortune to remain unblemished for the first five weeks of the season. The steward of “Dunk City” has created a well-rounded, disciplined and deep group that is producing top 50 efficiency metrics on both ends of the floor, placing a particular importance on taking care of the basketball (top 15 nationally).

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Pac-12 Burning Questions: How Good Can USC’s Chimezie Metu Be?

Posted by Adam Butler on November 9th, 2016

It’s perhaps strange to consider Chimezie Metu the hottest topic out of the Galen Center and perhaps I’m wrong on this one. Such is the case with preseason prognosticating. But consider that the Trojans – a team that attended the 2016 Dance – have many of the right pieces already in place and developed to cover for the departures of Julian Jacobs and Nikola Jovanovic. I find Metu perhaps the most intriguing prospect in the Pac-12. Jacobs was a first team conference performer last year in leading the conference in assists. And while I don’t love to play the game of “how to replace a singular talent,” Elijah Stewart has long felt poised to become an elite scorer while Louisville transfer Shaqquan Arron could very well have that guard productivity covered (after all, he was a top-30 recruit in 2014). The frontcourt is well-positioned to also see a sophomore bump out of Benny Boatright, a stretch four who shot a cool 37 percent from beyond the arc while posting competitive-but-not-great rebounding numbers (get in there big fella!). Losing Jovanovic to the Draft, therefore, left the Trojans with their biggest gap at the biggest position. Enter: Metu.

Chimezie Metu. (Shotgun Spratling/uscfootball.com)

Chimezie Metu Returns to Show What He Can Do at USC. (Shotgun Spratling/uscfootball.com)

He’s a fantastic athlete who has shown bursts of remarkable ability. As freshmen go, of course, they were indeed just bursts. He could play the role of big body this season, filling space and continuing those flashes or dominant presence, controlling the paint and altering anything in the lane. If it’s the former (body), I still like these Trojans as a top-of-the-league competitive and in the dogfight for an NCAA bid (two straight). If it’s the latter, however, with Metu as a nightly double-double threat and protecting the rim like he’s demonstrated (seriously, 8.2 percent block rate… but 5.2 fouls per 40 minutes), then the Trojans begin to feel like an NCAA lock with a shot at a top-three finish. Read the rest of this entry »

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Assessing Andy Enfield’s Accomplishments At USC

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on January 19th, 2016

Andy Enfield’s first two seasons at USC were…let’s just say underwhelming. An overall record of 23-41 actually looked good next to his conference record of 5-31. What little news Enfield was generating was by way of his mouth, rather than the effectiveness of his team’s play on the court. There was the intended-to-be-off-the-record shot at the cross-town rival (“if you want to play slow, go to UCLA”). Then there was the feud with former USC and current UTEP head coach Tim Floyd, which started over accusations that Enfield tampered with UTEP commit (and current UCLA junior) Isaac Hamilton. That spat continued with Enfield’s shots about Floyd wanting the USC job and suffering through life in El Paso. There were whispers around the Pac-12 grapevine about his inability to coach players up or make in-game adjustments. Despite a roster that was growing in talent, appropriate improvement in the standings hadn’t follow. Even in-house, there were doubts. As late as the Pac-12 Tournament last season, the Trojan program looked to be a complete mess.

The Andy Enfield Era At USC Took Some Time To Get Off The Ground (AP)

The Andy Enfield Era At USC Took Some Time To Get Off The Ground (AP)

Skip ahead through an offseason defined by roster stability and the addition of two highly regarded freshmen bigs. Jump forward to the open of the season where the Trojans won their first four games, all at home, showing off the open-court excitement that the Enfield administration initially promised. Now fast-forward through Thanksgiving weekend, where the excitement of a win over (Fred Van Vleet-less) Wichita State was tempered by ten-point losses to Xavier and Monmouth – teams that we now know are very good. The rest of non-conference play was made to be ignored (six wins over middling, at best, teams). So let’s jump right to what matters: conference play. With five games in the books, the Trojans are atop the conference standings and looking like a legitimate threat to win this thing. Yes, USC and Andy Enfield are Pac-12 title contenders. What the hell happened here?

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Pac-12 First Impressions

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 16th, 2015

The first weekend is in the books. Everybody’s played at least once and some teams have even gotten a couple games under their belts. There were some positive surprises (hello, Washington!) and some early disappointments (oh, UCLA), but we’ve got already plenty to talk about. Let’s take a spin around the conference and give a sentence or two on every team, while expanding on those teams that have done something — whether positive or negative — to deserve a little more.

Arizona: Ater ofnly one game against middling competition, I’m ready to call the battle for the Wildcats’ starting point guard position over. In something of a surprise, it’s Kadeem Allen. The former JuCo Player of the Year was known as a scoring off-guard coming to Tucson, but after spending his redshirt year playing the point, he’s leaped over sophomore Parker Jackson-Cartwright on the depth chart. There will be some bumps in the road for the new team orchestrator, but at 6’3” (compared to Jackson-Cartwright’s 5’9”), he allows Sean Miller to put more talent on the floor.

Kadeem Allen Is The One At Point Guard U?

Kadeem Allen Is The One at Point Guard U?

Arizona State: The Sun Devils’ 2-of-17 mark from beyond the three-point arc stands out in their opening night loss against Sacramento State, but more concerning might be the fact that they were outrebounded by a team that was awful on the glass last season. Still, we may look back on this game in three months and see it as just a weird blip.

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USC Preview: The Andy Enfield Experiment Continues

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 26th, 2015

In the next three weeks leading up to season tipoff, the Pac-12 microsite will be evaluating each of the league’s 12 teams. Today, we head to Los Angeles.

USC Trojans

Two years into the Andy Enfield experiment, the state of the USC basketball program is still in doubt. In season one, the Trojans, despite an 11-21 overall record, showed sporadic reason for hope, earning wins over Xavier and a road win at Dayton in non-conference play. Year two? No such luck. Until the Trojans outscored Arizona State 18-4 in the final nine minutes to win an opening round Pac-12 Tournament game (that, coincidentally, probably spelled the end of Herb Sendek’s employment in Tempe), there was no win against a team ranked inside of the KenPom top 100 on their resume. But with talent already in the program and with Enfield continuing to succeed on the recruiting trail, momentum is headed in the right direction.

Two Years In, Andy Enfield Has Not Had The Success Trojan Fans Had Hoped For

Two Years In, Andy Enfield Has Not Had The Success Trojan Fans Had Hoped For

Strengths. There is some talent here. There are five players on this roster – Katin Reinhardt, Jordan McLaughlin, Elijah Stewart, Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu – that were considered four-star recruits coming out of high school. Throw in vets Nikola Jovanovic and Julian Jacobs along with a handful of other role players, and complaints about talent level on this roster are no longer valid. Now is the time for the Trojans to turn that talent into actual on-court accomplishments. Read the rest of this entry »

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