USC Preview

Before we begin, let's show our appreciation for the San Diego Toreros, Western Kentucky Hilltoppers and George Mason Colonials. All three of those teams won their conference tournaments and burst the bubbles of a few teams around the country. With the at-large bids dwindling everyday, the Arizona State Sun Devils (19-11, 9-9) have a tall task ahead of them.

Heading into the quarterfinals of the Pac-10 Tournament, the Sun Devils are sitting squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble and losing a game will likely kill their chances. They face off against the USC Trojans in a relative home game for the Men of Troy as the tournament is played just a short drive from campus at the Staples Center.

The Sun Devils and Trojans split the season series with the home team winning each matchup. In the first meeting at the Galen Center in Los Angeles, the Trojans were paced by their fantastic trio of O.J. Mayo, Taj Gibson, and Davon Jefferson. Those three scored 50 of the teams 67 points and took advantage of the foul troubles of James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph in the second half. Harden scored 26 points but fouled out early and had little help from the rest of the team.

The second game in Tempe was a role reversal for the teams as the Sun Devils made the Trojans pay for their lack of discipline by going to the free throw line 39 times and making good on 34 of those attempts. Four players fouled out for USC including Gibson and Jefferson while Harden and Pendergraph scored 24 and 21 respectively with sharpshooting Rihards Kuksiks adding 11 strong points off the bench.

The Trojans are a lock for the NCAA Tournament while ASU has turned around an eight win season a year ago to be on the brink of the Big Dance. Experts around the country differ on their opinions on the current status of the Sun Devils chances as about half of the experts think their resume is already established enough while the other half believe that another win or two is needed to get over the hump.

Head Coach – Tim Floyd

Projected Starters

PG – Daniel Hackett – (8.9 PPG, 3.4 APG)
SG – Dwight Lewis – (11.2 PPG, 33% 3PT)
SF – O.J. Mayo – (20.9 PPG, 4.7 RPG)
PF – Davon Jefferson – (12.0 PPG, 6.2 RPG)
C – Taj Gibson – (11.0 PPG, 7.7 RPG)

Impact Reserves

G – Angelo Johnson
F – Keith Wilkinson
C – RouSean Cromwell

Backcourt

The Trojans are a fast team that can put up points in a hurry with Hackett, Lewis and Mayo. Hackett is a pass-first leader while Lewis and Mayo are slashing types that can shoot the lights out or take it to the hole. Hackett is fiery young player that drew the ire of Sun Devil fans with his cocky outbursts in the most recent meeting between the two teams but he is simply a hard-nosed ball player. Lewis is a very streaky shooter that can be extremely harmful if left alone.

Lastly, Mayo is the most talented player on the team and can score at will when he gets in the zone. He put up 37 in game at ASU and he didn't look like he was even breaking a sweat. With great range and elusive moves while penetrating, Mayo is an elite talent that won't probably be stopped and at best just contained.

ASU counters with the steady Derek Glasser on the point and Ty Abbott and James Harden on the wings. The backcourts of these two teams are awfully similar. Glasser is a fearless leader and distributes well. Abbott is a very streaky shooter and although he was cold near the end of the season, he was scorching the nets at Oregon State in the regular season finale. Abbott broke the ASU freshman record for 3-pointers in that game.

This game will also be the third round between good friends Harden and Mayo. Harden has been lights out in both meetings and will need to take control of this game to win it in front of a Pro-USC crowd.

Edge – Even

Frontcourt

Davon Jefferson and Taj Gibson are a tenacious duo underneath with their ability to score, rebound, as well as defend and they play well with together. Jefferson is a bruiser that creates contact and finishes well while Gibson is more of a face-up player that blocks shots with ease on the defensive end. The only knock on the two is their maturity. When things go sour for the Trojans, they tend to struggle and that is especially true for these two. In the first game, the calls were going their way and they dominated but in the second game, the calls were going against them and they got visibly frustrated and their game and team suffered.

For the Sun Devils, Jeff Pendergraph has been the vocal leader of the team from day one and he has shown flashes of sheer domination throughout the season. However, against teams with multiple talented big men, he has trouble because he gets in foul trouble and he endures a lot of contact. Kuksiks plays out of position down low but he has the ability to stretch out bigger defenders to the perimeter and open up the lane for Harden and Pendergraph.

Edge – USC

Bench

This is where the Sun Devils need to capitalize on the Trojans weakness because while the Trojans starting big men outsize the Sun Devils, the bench for ASU is much deeper than that of USC.

The Trojans use a seven-man rotation for the most part while ASU pushes eight or nine guys through their rotation every game. Angelo Johnson and Keith Wilkinson are solid role players that can create offensively and they defend relatively well but Johnson cannot create like Hackett and Wilkinson is a tweener that can shoot well but is a bit soft underneath for a big man.

Off the bench for the Devils are Jamelle McMillan, Jerren Shipp, Antwi Atuahene, and Eric Boateng. McMillan is a strong defender and a budding creator at the point while Shipp and Atuahene can play anywhere from the wing to down low albeit they are undersized. Shipp's game has improved greatly as the season has progressed and he has played much more aggressively on the blocks. Boateng is Pendergraph's relief and has really gained confidence every game since his quasi-breakout performance in the Stanford upset.

Solid Edge – ASU

Final Score – ASU 72 USC 67

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