Bennie Boatwright (USA Today)

Know Your Opponent: Southern California Trojans

SMU plays Southern California in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament Friday. PonyStampede's Patrick Engel breaks down the Trojans trends and players, as well as their win vs. Providence in the First Four.

Team Facts

Record: 25-9 (10-8 Pac-12)

NCAA Tournament Seed: 11 (No. 45 overall)

KenPom/RPI: 58/41

Points per game: 78.7 (T-55)

Points allowed per game: 73.2 (210)

Best win: UCLA

Worst loss: Arizona State

Record vs. RPI top 50: 2-6

Season summary

The Trojans started the season 14-0, including a 78-73 win vs. SMU on Nov. 25, before regressing a bit in Pac-12 play. They did beat UCLA at home, but otherwise went 1-6 vs. the top three teams in the Pac-12 standings (Arizona, Oregon, UCLA). After beating Washington 78-73 in the conference tournament’s opening round, USC lost to UCLA 76-74 in the quarterfinals. USC was the second-to-last team to be given an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. After trailing by 17 early in the second half vs. Providence in the First Four, USC came back to win and advance to play SMU. 

Team trends

USC has an average possession length of 16 seconds, which ranks among the 50 fastest-paced teams in the nation. It ranks among the top 20 teams in lowest turnover percentage, at 15.6 percent of possessions. USC is pretty balanced and not over-reliant on the 3-pointer. Defensively, the Trojans slow teams down more and don’t foul often. They play a fair amount of zone that’s more a matchup zone, but will play some man. They aren’t a great rebounding team and can give up a lot of 3s. They’re a young team with no seniors in their rotation, and only one on the roster. They played a nine-man rotation earlier, but have been going with an eight-man one lately, as many teams do in the postseason. USC is a better offensive team than defensive team, though they can play disjointed at times on offense.

Game vs. Providence takeaways

USC looked like a different team in each half in its Wednesday win vs. the Friars. The Trojans trailed by 15 at halftime before storming back to win. They held Providence to 27 points in the second half, after giving up 44 in the first. They scored 46 in the second after putting up only 29 in the first. USC played mostly zone, and was also sloppy in the first 20 minutes before tightening up in the second half. The wing defenders have a lot of freedom to rotate, sometimes too much. Providence scored on it by using a lot of cross-court movement and drive-and-kick when its guards got into the middle of the zone off the dribble. USC also had a few miscommunications and lack of awareness plays – Providence had a player behind the zone for a layup a few times in the first half. In the second half, USC cut down the confusion and challenged shots better. Providence’s guards had more trouble getting into the middle of the zone off the dribble.

Startling lineup breakdown

G Jordan McLaughlin (Jr. 6-1, 180)

Stats: 13.1 PPG, 5.5 APG, 3.4 RPG, 41.5% 3P

McLaughlin is USC’s point guard and best passer. Sometimes USC can play individual ball on offense, but McLaughlin looks to get other guys the ball. USC runs a lot of pick-and-rolls, and he’s a good passer out of those. He’s not a turnover-prone player. He’s not the most physical player, but he has a good floater he uses to score in the paint and shoot over defenders at the rim. He has good awareness as a defender, especially in the zone. He’s averaged 1.5 steals per game for his career. He rarely fouls, though playing in some zone helps that. A bigger, stronger guard could give him trouble when USC does go to man. Shake Milton would be a tough matchup for him because of his length.

G Elijah Stewart (Jr. 6-5, 190)

Stats: 12.4 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.5 APG, 38% 3P

Stewart is a wing who’s best as a 3-point shooter – more than half his shots come from 3-point distance. He likes to find transition 3 chances. He’s a good athlete with size for the off-guard position. Since he’s reliant on the 3-pointer, he can be streaky. He has five games with at least four 3s, and seven games with five or fewer points. He didn’t score in 31 minutes against Providence. To make him ineffective, defenses have to make him put the ball on the floor and run him off the 3-point line, since he’s not a great ball-handler. He’s an aggressive defender who has the length to bother guards on the perimeter. At times, he can be over-aggressive and pick up too many fouls (fouled out of four games). The length and his athleticism help him average more than a block per game, which is great for a guard. 

G De'Anthony Melton (Fr. 6-4, 190)

Stats: 8.7 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 3.4 APG, 44% FG

Melton isn’t much of a scoring threat at this stage in his career, but he might already be USC’s best defender. He averages two steals per game as an aggressive, physical on-ball defender. His length (6-8 wingspan), explosiveness and quickness help him average a block per game and keep opponents from getting around him. He rebounds his position well and can go against bigger guys. He has not been a good 3-point shooter so far (29 percent), but otherwise is a pretty versatile player on both ends since he does a little bit of everything. You’re going to live with him making shots and not devote a lot of defensive attention to him. A lot of his scoring comes off his defensive playmaking and residual action. He scored 15 points off the bench against SMU in November. He was 3-for-5 from 3, but SMU had bigger problems than him.

F Bennie Boatwright (So. 6-10, 230)

Stats: 14.6 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 36% 3P (Boatwright missed half the season with an injury)

Boatwright is USC’s leader in points per game and the toughest matchup for opposing defenses. He’s a really good shooter with great size and also has a skilled face-up game with the ability to put the ball on the floor and get by opposing big men. He can shoot off the dribble and isn’t just a catch-and-shoot or pick-and-pop guy, though he is used in a lot of those situations too. He can score in isolations because of his ball-handling ability. He has a jab-step and shot fake he uses to get space to shoot. He scored a career-high 24 points in the win vs. Providence. He won’t use it a lot, but he has a jump-hook. Boatwright can be over-reliant on his jumper and 3-point shot. More than half his shots come from 3-point range. Defensively, he’s below average. USC can hide him in its zone, but his awareness isn’t great. Offenses should want to get him in pick-and-roll situations. Still, he’s a difficult matchup because of the size mixed with his guard skill set. In the first matchup vs. SMU, he scored 17 points.

F Chimezie Metu (So. 6-10, 225)

Stats: 14.5 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.3 APG, 55% FG

Metu plays the center spot for USC, though he’s not much of a back-to-the-basket player. He’s not a ball-handler, but he’s a good scorer in the pick-and-roll and has great athletic ability. He’s hard to cover on pick-and-rolls and cuts. He’s tough to stop going to the basket because of the athleticism and quickness at his size. He’s not a good passer, so doubling and trapping are good ways to defend him. His turnover rate (17.3%) is really high for a big man. USC won’t put him in true post situations because of his average strength and lack of post moves. His athletic ability shows up on the glass, especially on offense. He’s become a better rebounder overall. Metu isn’t a threat from 3-point range, and although his jumper has improved since he arrived at USC, it’s a shot defenses should allow him to take. Metu averages 1.5 blocks per game, even though he doesn’t have a huge wingspan (6-11 for a 6-10 guy). Metu moves really well for his size, which helps him as a shot blocker and on the perimeter. Foul trouble is his undoing. Against SMU in November, he fouled out in 25 minutes, had four turnovers and scored only six points. He’s fouled out of three games this season and has six more with four fouls.

Bench

F Nick Rakocevic (Fr. 6-11, 215)

Stats: 5.2 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 15 MPG, 56% FG

Rakocevic was instrumental in USC’s comeback vs. Providence. He played 19 minutes, mostly in the second half, scored nine points and played good defense. He’s another skilled big man with a face-up game that’s good for his size. He hasn’t taken a lot of jump shots this year, but he’s capable as a face-up shooter and catch-and-shoot guy. He has a jump-hook with some nice touch. He’s not very physical right now, but he did hold his own with Providence big men Emmitt Holt and Rodney Bullock in the second half.

G Jonah Mathews (Fr. 6-3, 185)

Stats: 7.3 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 20.6 MPG, 33% 3P

A combo guard who plays in place of and alongside McLaughlin, has seen his role grow since the start of conference play. He’s a versatile 3-point shooter, but that’s mostly all he’s been this season. He had one of his better games in the first matchup vs. SMU, scoring 14 points.

G/F Shaqquan Aaron (Jr. 6-7, 190)

Stats: 8.3 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 22 MPG, 40% FG

A former five-star recruit who spent his first two seasons at Louisville, Aaron began the season as a starter for USC. Now, he comes off the bench. Against Providence, he was the third player off the bench, behind Rakocevic and Matthews. He’s a decent shooter (34% from 3) who takes about half his shots from behind the 3-point line.


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