The Sun Devils (12-4 overall; 4-1 in the Pac-10) take on the USC Trojans (6-6; 2-2) Saturday night on Fox Sport Net at 9:00 P.M MST having lost 11 of the last 14 games to the home team, including 6 in a row. Former ASU assistant Henry Bibby is 10-2 in his career versus the Devils as head coach of the Trojans and will attempt to lead his team back above the 500% mark.
It's been a relatively tumultuous season thus far for USC. Reserve forward Jerry Dupree missed the first portion of the season while academically ineligible and several players have been kicked out of practice by coach Bibby over the past few weeks due to lack of effort. There was single game suspensions handed down to Errick Craven and Rory O'Neil for the game at Morris Brown after a room-swapping incident. Robert Hutchinson has had a bothersome ankle sprain throughout the season that he has recently re-aggravated several times, and just a few days ago the team lost point guard Brandon Brooks for the season after a devastating and gruesome leg/ankle injury suffered at practice.
Despite all of these incidents the Trojans are a dangerous team that had one of their better performances of the season Thursday night versus Arizona in which they led for the majority of the game before faltering late due to a shooting drought. With the injuries to Robert Hutchinson and Brandon Brooks, 6'2 sophomore Derrick Craven has assumed the bulk of the point guard duties despite the fact that his game isn't necessarily well-suited for the position. Derek's assist to turnover ratio is less than 1 to 1, and anything less than 2 to 1 is considered below adequate. He's also terribly foul-prone, picking up 4 fouls in 7 minutes of action versus Penn last week and was forced by coach Bibby to practice defense with his hands behind his back.
Derrick's twin brother, 6'2 Errick will play the majority of the game at the off-guard position. Errick won the Pac-10 freshmen of the year award last season and is one of the best all-around guards in the conference. He's a true scorer and can fill it up from anywhere on the court, and off the dribble is almost unstoppable with his strength and athleticism. Errick is also one of the best defenders in the league; he was far and away the Pac-10 conference leader in steals as a freshmen. Despite a slow start, Craven has come on strong in Pac-10 play and is averaging 17 points and an unbelievable 7.2 rebounds over the past 4 games.
The Trojans employ what essentially amounts to a three guard lineup with the team's leading scorer, 6'4 junior Desmon Farmer averaging nearly 25 points per game in Pac-10 play and over 34 minutes of floor time. Farmer is an extremely emotional player who plays very streaky at times. He's capable of easily going for over 30 points on any given night and is equally adept at either shooting the ball from the perimeter or taking it to the basket. When either Farmer or Errick Craven come out of the ballgame they are usually spelled by 6'4 junior Roy Smiley who is very similar to Farmer in terms of style and substance. He's arguably the team's best long range shooter, but has a tendency to disappear at times on the court and has seen his playing time cut almost in half in conference play. This isn't a big surprise however since Henry Bibby is notorious for playing his starters heavy minutes and often only 6-7 players will see significant court time in any particular game.
The two interior starters for the Trojans are 6'8 sophomore Nick Curtis and 6'11 sophomore Rory O'Neil. Curtis is a fleet and athletic multi-dimensional forward with a nice face up game and post moves to match. He's improved substantially from a year ago and has done a better-than-anticipated job of replacing Sam Clancy, who is now with the Philadelphia 76ers. Curtis is far and away the team's best rebounder and he's averaging nearly 11 points and more than 8 caroms a game. O'Neil is a very long and lanky player, and even after adding more than 25 pounds in the off-season appears thin. He plays more like the face up power forwards of today's NBA with a nice mid-range jumper and some nice perimeter mobility. He isn't a particularly good rebounder for his height however, and also often has difficulty defender stronger, more physical players in the post.
Other frontcourt players that will likely see time for the Trojans include 6'11 senior center Kostas Charissis, 7' junior center Jonathan Oliver and 6'7 junior forward Jerry Dupree. Charissis is a Greek-national who has a limited offensive game but can rebound and mix it up defensively underneath the basket better than anyone else on the roster. Oliver is extremely long and athletic but has a tendency to play very soft and his skill level is fairly underdeveloped at this stage in his career. Dupree is a dynamic talent, who burst onto the scene with a spectacular performance in last year's Pac-10 tournament but has yet to regain that form after missing the early part of the season due to academic ineligibility.
In order to win the Devils will have to do a good job constricting the mobility of Errick Craven and Desmon Farmer. Both of these players have the ability to create havoc for defenses with their ability to shoot, penetrate and create open looks for teammates. One of the things in this regard that favors ASU is the relative lack of height of the two. At only 6'4 Farmer is someone the Devils can at least attempt to defend with a number of players including Donnell Knight, Curtis Millage, Jason Braxton and Jamal Hill. The Devils may elect to put Jamal Hill, their weakest on-ball perimeter defender, on Derrick Craven and attempt to focus on shutting down the dynamic duo of Errick Craven and Des Farmer.
The Trojans are very limited in the post offensively as evidence by the mere 6 foul shot attempts they were awarded by the referees in the game against Arizona on Thursday. Conversely, ASU has played excellent interior defense led by Ike Diogu and Tommy Smith, the league's leading shot-blocker. If the Devils can run the offense like they have in the past 9 games in a way features Ike Diogu's presence in the post, they have an excellent shot at running their record to 5-1 in the Pac-10 and sweeping the LA road trip for the first time since 1980.
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