SMU Mustangs (4-1) vs. USC Trojans (4-0)
When: Friday, Nov. 25 at 6 p.m. CT
Where: Galen Center, Los Angeles
TV/Radio: Pac 12 Network/KAAM 770
Series: USC leads 4-1 (first meeting in Los Angeles)
Last meeting: USC won 91-83 on Dec. 28, 1994
After losing 76-54 against Michigan for its first double-digit loss since Nov. 17, 2014, SMU beat UC-Santa Barbara 84-57 Tuesday night. SMU’s offense averaged 1.25 points per possession and assisted on 21 of its 29 field goals, a similar performance to its 91-point day against Eastern Michigan on Nov. 13. SMU also made 9 of its 19 3-point attempts against USCB after going 12-for-35 from deep in the two games before that. Semi Ojeleye, the AAC’s second-leading scorer, tallied 22 points against the Gauchos on 8-of-11 shooting.
Breaking Down USC
The Trojans have a road win at Texas A&M and beat New Orleans 88-54 on Tuesday behind 11-of-25 shooting from 3-point distance. But for the season, USC isn’t a great shooting team. It ranks 264th nationally in 3-point percentage, 224th in 2-point percentage and has shot only 40.8 percent from the floor this year. Yet USC ranks in the top 70 in offensive efficiency because it hasn’t turned the ball over much and gets to the foul line.
USC ranks 30th in adjusted defensive efficiency, allowing .956 points per possession. The Trojans have forced turnovers, kept opponents off the foul line and have allowed only 39.8 percent shooting on 2-pointers. They allow shots around the rim, but block an average of 13.3 per game.
Three USC players to watch
G Elijah Stewart: The junior and former top-40 recruit is the team’s leading scorer (18.3 points per game) and best 3-point shooter (10-for-24, 47 percent). Like SMU’s guards, he has length at 6-foot-5. He can be one-dimensional at times, but he’s shown a better ability to get to the foul line so far this season. If SMU can prevent him from getting open looks from 3, he can be limited elsewhere.
F Chimezie Metu: Also a former top-40 recruit, the 6-foot-11 sophomore has a height advantage over most of SMU’s forwards (except Harry Froling), but he’s not a back-to-the-basket post scorer. A lot of his points come on jump hooks a little farther from the rim. He’s also used on rolls and cuts to the basket moving without the ball, then finishing after getting a pocket pass or alley-oop. To make him struggle, SMU needs to stay on him when he moves without the ball or trap him when he gets a chance for a putback.
G Jordan McLaughlin: The junior point guard was USC’s top returning scorer from last season. He’s good when he goes to the rim and converts at a high rate around the basket, while also mixing in a good 3-point shot. He is USC’s leader in assists, but also has the highest turnover rate on the team. That’s not surprising considering he handles the ball the most, but it’s still high. If SMU plays pourous lane defense like it did against Michigan, McLaughlin will be a problem.
Projected starting lineups
G Jordan McLaughlin (10.8 ppg, 5.3 apg)
G Elijah Stewart (18.3 ppg, 7.8 rpg)
F Shaqquan Aaron (12.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg)
F Chimezie Metu (12.0 ppg 8.5 rpg)
F Bennie Boatwright (8.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg)
G Shake Milton 12.0 ppg, 4.4 apg)
G Jarrey Foster (10.2 pg, 66% FG)
G Sterling Brown 11.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 3.0 apg)
F Ben Moore (10.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg)
F Semi Ojeleye (20.6 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 52 FG%)
Matchup to Watch:
Semi Ojeleye and Ben Moore on offense vs. USC big men on defense: Ojeleye had trouble scoring against Michigan and its bigger frontcourt. Ben Moore got by a Michigan forward near the basket a couple times, but otherwise struggled. USC has similar size, athleticism and defensive skill. Both Moore and Ojeleye are quick enough with to get by most big men close to the hoop, but SMU needs to keep using them on cuts and rolls when they move without the ball. That’s how they’ll reduce any size concern, since it doesn’t take a certain height to cut to the basket.
Keys to the game
Keep moving: Against Michigan, another team that has played good defense this season, SMU struggled to get many open shots. Its guards couldn’t get past Michigan’s guards and its forwards couldn’t score in the paint or get easy paths to the basket without the ball. So much of Tim Jankovich’s offense relies on moving around and playing without the ball, and that’s what worked when SMU carved up Eastern Michigan’s zone and beat Pittsburgh’s zone defense in the second half. SMU is sure to see more of that zone, but also some tough man defense like Michigan played. If SMU can keep moving to create chances for open shots, its offense can score with anyone.