USC's West Coast Swing, 1st Semester Pop Quiz

The Gamecocks, hot off a season opening scare that allowed the team to exploit late come-from-behind poise by a combination of senior leadership, floor burn hustle, and new player surprises, will now travel to the state of California to take on opponents from both the Big West Conference and the PAC 10, in the University of California – Irvine and Southern California, respectively.

Traditionally, west coast teams tend to play a little more physical, allowing the games to be framed in the post first. The Anteaters of Cal-Irvine will be a post challenge for the Gamecocks, who will have to contend with the Australian, 6-6 225 Nic Campbell, who plays around the basket, can score, and has the ability to make good interior passes. He will be supported by preseason All Conference forward Darren Fells, a 6-7 post player, who carryies 250 lbs. of bulk around paint. Fells is very physical and athletic for his size, along with athletic forward Patrick Sanders, a 6-6 198lb junior.

Backcourt play will be a question for the Big West member that finished 16-13 last year, and is only predicted to finish fifth in the eight team conference behind Long Beach State, Pacific, Cal-Poly and Cal State Fullerton. 9th year coach, Pat Douglas, who has won 514 games in his 25 year career, has no experienced guard returning on this roster, but the 6-1 Jr., Marcus McIntosh, a Texas A&M transfer is expected to provide early leadership for a team that was able to travel to 13th ranked Stanford last season and come away with a 16 point upset. The Anteaters are currently 1-1 after a 67-63 loss to South Alabama and a 53-41 victory against Winston-Salem State in the Basketball Travelers Classic in Fresno, California. UCI will play Fresno State Sunday Night.

On the other hand, Thursday's clash between USC (East) and USC (West) will be the first regular season game of a five game stand for the Trojans of Southern Cal. Second year coach Tim Floyd has to re-engineer a team that showed promise last year after the tragic loss of his star guard Ryan Francis, who was shot to death earlier this year. Left without a true point guard, Floyd will look to freshmen Daniel Hackett and Kevin Galloway. The use of both freshmen was enhanced by academic problems for upperclassman Gabe Pruitt. South Carolina will have similar post challenges with a team that is expected to press their offense to a half court style, pushing the ball inside to senior center Abdoulaye N'diaye (6-11 220lbs) and leading scorer and rebounder Nick Young (6-6 200lbs.) For the second game in a row, South Carolina will have to contend with a preseason all conference selection, in the very athletic Young.

As if athleticism and home court advantage aren't enough, this game will be the inaugural game for the new $140 million Galen Arena on a night that a scholarship endowment fundraiser will commence in the honor of Francis, while the players will wear a patch bearing their fallen teammate's name and number. A bench, in front of the newly erected Galen Center, will also bear his name.

In South Carolina's season opener, the Gamecocks protection of the basketball helped disguise a 1-18 perimeter shooting night. Expect this to improve on the west coast, but the post play will be the area of improvement that will have to mature rapidly to return the Gamecocks to Columbia 3-0. Expect Coach Dave Odom to employ an up tempo game plan with pressure defense on the two inexperienced backcourts, taking away their ability to get into their offensive sets smoothly and changing passing lanes and angles. Look for Bryce Sheldon to be more effective, Brandis Raley-Ross to gain more confidence and his comfort zone for shot selection, Evaldas Baniulus' minutes and productivity to increase, and one additional player to bring home impressive numbers. The upcoming West Coast Swing will serve as an early pop quiz for the Gamecocks this semester.

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