Who Are You: USC

Kevin Danna brings his insights and observations heading into Saturday afternoon's home contest versus the USC Trojans.

If Thursday's win over the Bruins is any indicator, then the Card could be on their way to a very solid conference season - Johnny Dawkins' best. But it's a long haul, and anything can happen.

The bottom line? One down, 17 to go.

Number two, on paper, looks easy. Eleven-win and two-loss Stanford against 5-9 USC - should be an easy one, right?


Stanford, and everyone else in the conference, knows that the Trojans are probably the best 5-9 team in the country. Not that USC is a great team - they aren't - but they will not go down easy. They just might be the toughest out in the conference.  Why is that?

They defend…better than anyone in the Pac. Stanford's 57.8 points per game allowed is second only to - you guessed it - Watts' Finest. They won't turn a team over an insane amount, but they are just so sound guarding the opponent. When the Trojans are at their best defensively, they will force the other side to waste 25-30 seconds before being able to getting into any semblance of an offense, which results in rushed shots and bad decisions. It's just good ole Kevin O'Neill basketball, baby.

Of which I am probably part of just a handful of people that are fans.

Love him or hate him, Kevin O'Neill gets his teams to compete. He may not make a lot of friends doing so, but he always gets his guys to defend at the highest level.  His boys held the Golden Bears to almost 20 points below their season average in their 53-49 defeat in Berkeley on Thursday despite being sliced and diced with post entry passes in the early going and giving up 17 points in the first seven minutes. 

New Mexico averages 74 points per contest. Against USC, they reached 44. San Diego State averages 75, scored 56. UNLV - 81 and 66, respectively. So you can see, their performance against Cal wasn't a one-off. In fact, that 66 spot put up by the Runnin' Rebels was the most anyone has scored against USC all year.

If only the Trojans themselves could score, this team would be really scary.

But they can't - not from the field (41 percent), not from three (32 percent) and CERTAINLY not from the charity stripe (60 percent).

And that's their downfall. Had they been able to score 43 points against Cal Poly, they would have beaten the Big West Mustangs. They didn't, only putting up 36. If only they scored more than 13 in the first half against Kansas and 15 in the opening 20 against New Mexico, the Trojans could have taken down the Jayhawks and Lobos. No could do.

That's not to say that there aren't a couple of guys Stanford will need to keep a close eye on in the Trojan corps.

Take Maurice Jones for starters, who I guess is the new Mo-Mo Jones of the conference, if you watched the Cal-USC Comcast broadcast last night. I thought he went by just Mo Jones.

Regardless of what he is called, Jones is by far their scariest player on the offensive end with Jio Fontan out for the season before it even started. If Mauricejonesism was a noun, its dictionary definition would be "the ability to make tough shots."

Some of the F-Gs he converts are unreal, and he was in all his glory in the second half against Cal Thursday night, being the catalyst to the huge Trojan comeback that fell just short (if it wasn't for an excuse-me Eric Strangis foul on Allen Crabbe with eight seconds left, Troy might not have fallen short). Maurice Da 5'7 somehow was able to beat Brandon Smith off the dribble, get into the paint, get rocked by 6'9 David Kravish and get an and-1 finish. He followed that up later with three treys in which he straight up did the Donny Guernioni to his defender (shimmy-shake and pop from considerably behind the arc. If you ever play the former Stanford assistant and current LSU assistant, I can guarantee you Donny will pull that move every chance he gets).

The dude is for real and can give the Cardinal all sorts of fits on Saturday.  Living in the Chicago area last year (Evanston to be exact), my parents let me come home for one Stanford home game during the Pac-10 season - I chose the USC game in mid-February. Having not been able to follow the Pac-10 all that closely, I thought to myself "who the hell is this little person?" when Maurice checked into the game.  After a few minutes, my question had been answered. He provided 10 points off the bench in that 69-53 Trojan triumph and almost single-handedly brought his team back against Cal Thursday.

He did have some help, however, from perhaps the biggest (literally and physically) found-money player in the Pac-12 right now in DeWayne Dedmon. He's liable to slam a couple in and go up to contest everything in the paint defensively. He had more than a couple of monstrous dunks last night, including what appeared to be an errant shot-turned-alley-oop from Maurice Jones near the end of the game. The guy is pure energy and literally plays the game with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind, Harbaugh be damned. I wouldn't be able to do his background story justice, so just read this stirring article instead: SI.com Article.  If you don't come away feeling SOMETHING, check your pulse.

Aaron Fuller is another guy to watch closely. He's the only other one outside of Jones to average double figures on the season for USC and despite being just 6'6'', he can do a lot of work down low, averaging 52 percent from the field. He's an athletic dude who can take it strong into the paint.

If the Farm Boys are able to corral those three guys, the game shouldn't be as much of a nail-biter as the UCLA one was. Not that Stanford will blow out the Trojans - no one can - and not that it won't be a difficult game - it will. But there's not much else offensively for USC right now, and if those three can't score, they're screwed. That's a tall order, though, to limit the scoring of Mo Jones and negate Dedmon and Fuller.

This won't be an easy game. Coming into this weekend, I almost thought USC posed more of a threat. Not sure I feel the same way now, and it might not come down to Mo Jones trying to one-up Lazeric Jones against the Cardinal down the stretch (it definitely could, however), but if you're coming to Maples thinking you will be able to breathe easy, you better bring an oxygen tank just in case.
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