Every USC fan knew Pac-12 play would be tough on the Trojans. But how tough exactly? Well they got their answer this past week. USC lost by a combined 45 points to Utah and Colorado, Jordan McLaughlin injured his non-surgically repaired shoulder and the team shot 21 percent across their first two conference games from behind the three point line. That’s not exactly a recipe for success. Many knew what the results of the games would be, but it would have been nice to see some sort of fire from the group and games within 15 points or so.
The big story against Utah was USC’s lack of perimeter defense. The Utes hit 11 of 19 threes in the game, good for 57.9 percent from behind the three point line, while the Trojans only hit 3 out of 13 threes (23.1 percent). When a team outscores you 33 to 9 from behind the arc, you won’t win many games. This has a lot to do with a lack of communication coming off screens, a sign of a young team, and not getting through screens quickly enough. Utah moves the ball very well and possesses a big threat inside in Jakob Poeltl. One of the highest percentage shots in basketball is a shot taken after receiving a pass from the interior and whenever Delon Wright drove and kicked out a pass, the Utes seemed to knock down the shot. Wright, who will be a first team Pac-12 selection, finished the game with 10 assists and 11 points. There’s no doubt he’s one of the best guards in the nation and it would have been shocking to see the Trojans contain him. The Trojans had the slimmest of chances to beat the Utes and it just wasn’t going to happen on Friday night.
It was more of the same story on Sunday. The Trojans couldn’t hit a three and went 4 for 20 from behind the three point line and yet again, their opponent shot well from three as Colorado hit 7 of 15 shots from deep. Turnovers hurt USC big time as well on Sunday morning as the team coughed up the ball 13 times. Julian Jacobs, replacing Jordan McLaughlin in the starting lineup, recorded four of his own and only dished out five assists. Jacobs wasn’t the problem though as Katin Reinhardt can’t seem to break out of his shooting slump.
Reinhardt is now shooting 32.6 percent from the field and hasn’t even taken the most shots on the team. That’s good for the 10th best shooting percentage out of the Trojans who have received significant minutes and it seemed like he was playing better while coming off the bench. Elijah Stewart had a rough week shooting the ball, but it may be time to move him to the starting lineup full time. Heck, Julian Jacobs might even be a better replacement. With McLaughlin handling point guard duties, Jacobs would be able to play off the ball more which might put his skill set to better use. Jacobs is shooting 54.1 percent from the field, but is averaging 4.0 turnovers per 40 minutes, a concerning rate. Maybe if he played off the ball more he’d turn the ball over less, but there’s little doubt in my mind that Jacobs should receive a sliver of Reinhardt’s minutes. Jacobs’ player efficiency rating is 14.8 while Reinhardt’s is 12.1. Jacobs’ true shooting percentage (2-pointers, 3-pointers and free throws combined) is 59 percent while Reinhardt’s is 43.8 percent. Just saying.
Expectations for this USC team are not high at all. Interest in this basketball program has dipped tremendously and right now the bandwagon consists of approximately 10 people. While many don’t think USC will win much at all this year, they expect USC to compete for a spot in the NCAA Tournament next year. It will be Andy Enfield’s third year at the helm and by year three, a coach has had time to implement his system, recruit players he needs to fit that system and win a fair amount of games. Through 14 games this year, USC has a record of 8-6. Through 14 games last year, USC had a record of 9-5 before going on to lose 16 conference games. There’s no doubt USC cannot lose that many games in conference this year if the team wants to have any fan interest headed into the ’15-’16 season. It’s so frustrating to watch this team at times because you see the talent, but the basketball IQ and experience are suffering big time. Players have tweeted about the lack of fan support at home. One way to get that support back: Showing obvious improvement on the court.
Top 25 Rankings
1. Kentucky (LW: 1)
2. Duke (LW: 2)
All is well in the land of the Blue Devils as they won their three games this week by a combined 69 points. With Virginia barely pulling off a few victories this week, it’s clear Duke is the favorite to win the ACC. College basketball is crazy though and who knows, Maryland might be the dark horse to steal away the title.
3. Virginia (LW: 3)
The Cavaliers cut it close this week as they pulled off two close victories, one coming against a good Davidson squad and one coming against Miami in double overtime. Down the stretch against Davidson, Anthony Gill stepped up big time. He finished with 25 points and 13 rebounds, good for another double-double which he seems to get every game. This Virginia team has three elite players (Gill, Justin Anderson and Malcolm Brogdon) who can step up in crunch time and that’s a recipe for success in the ACC. With London Perrantes driving and distributing, watch out. The Cavaliers are a very hard team to guard and although they showed some weaknesses this week, they still remain a top three team in the nation.
4. Wisconsin (LW: 4)
5. Gonzaga (LW: 5)
6. Louisville (LW: 7)
7. Arizona (LW: 8)
8. Utah (LW: 9)
9. Villanova (LW: 6)
The Wildcats’ first two Big East games this year were tough. They faced a good Butler squad who is just outside my top 25 and lost to Seton Hall, one of my favorite teams to watch. The good news? Seton Hall is much improved and now sits in the top 25. The bad news? The Pirates were missing one of their best players in Isaiah Whitehead, a phenomenal freshman wing. When you miss 19 shots from deep, you’ll lose more games than not and that’s exactly what happened to Villanova against Seton Hall.
10. Maryland (LW: 10)
Although it may not look like it, Maryland’s win at Michigan State was huge. East Lansing is a tough place to play and Maryland went in there and battled for 50 minutes in a double overtime victory. Now that the Terps have everybody back, they are clicking on all cylinders. Melo Trimble played excellent down the stretch once again and is so clutch at the free throw line for only being a freshman.
11. Kansas (LW: 11)
A 15 point win against a talented UNLV squad that already beat Arizona this year? That counts as a great win in my book. Kansas has played the toughest schedule in the land so far and it will only help come conference play. Kelly Oubre is starting to show progression on the court and he’s now part of the starting lineup. He recorded a double-double against the Runnin’ Rebels and is creeping his way back up NBA Draft boards. Perry Ellis was the undoubted leader of this team heading into the season and while he still is one of Kansas’ best players, he’s moved over for Frank Mason. The sophomore point guard is shooting a 49.1 percent clip from the floor and leads the team in assists per game. Bill Self hasn’t had a stellar, consistent point guard since Mario Chalmers and he might have finally found another one in Mason.
12. Notre Dame (LW: 13)
13. Texas (LW: 14)
14. Oklahoma (LW: 21)
15. North Carolina (LW: 16)
The Tar Heels seem to do this every year. They lose three games or so in the beginning of the year, fall out of the rankings and then all of a sudden you find them back in the top 15. This week will really show us what this team is made of as UNC faces Notre Dame and Louisville, two top 12 squads. Not many people expected the scoring to be so evenly spread out this year, but so far it definitely has been. Marcus Paige is only averaging 13.3 points per game while Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson are averaging 12.8 and 11.5 points per game respectively. Balanced scoring is what this team needed and players other than Marcus Paige are starting to step up. The Heels are definitely heading in the right direction.
16. Wichita State (LW: 17)
17. Iowa State (LW: 12)
18. West Virginia (LW: 23)
19. Seton Hall (LW: NR)
Welcome to the top 25, Pirates. I’ve been itching to put Seton Hall in my top 25 ever since their first game of the season. The Pirates boast a very balanced squad with two very good freshman in Angel Delgado and Isaiah Whitehead. Delgado is a heck of a rebounder and even though he’s undersized, he sets the tone down low. Whitehead on the other hand is an elite wing and can score at will. He’s the most talented player on this squad, although point guard Sterling Gibbs has been very good this year as well. In fact, Gibbs had an excellent week as the Pirates knocked off two top 15 teams in St. Johns and Villanova. In those two victories, Gibbs scored a total of 45 points, showing this team can win without Whitehead. The Pirates already have a leg up on the rest of the contenders in the Big East and don’t be surprised if they stay in that top spot for the rest of the season.
20. Baylor (LW: 22)
21. VCU (LW: NR)
22. Arkansas (LW: 24)
23. Iowa (LW: NR)
Even though Iowa has four losses this year, each one of those defeats have come against good teams. The loss to Texas was understandable, Syracuse was ranked at the time they played Iowa, Iowa State was a top 15 squad and Northern Iowa has been in and out of the AP top 25 this whole year. It’s not like Iowa got blown out by those teams either. The largest margin of defeat was to Iowa State by 15 points. Not that bad. The Hawkeyes also boast wins against Ohio State and North Carolina, two teams currently in the top 25. Aaron White is the clear leader of this squad and is averaging 16 points and 7.3 rebounds this year while shooting an excellent 87.3 percent clip at the line. The rest of the Big Ten can’t take this four loss team lightly.
24. Ohio State (LW: 19)
25. Colorado State (LW: 25)
The loss to New Mexico is not a good loss at all. However, playing in Albuquerque is always tough and that’s why I’m keeping the Rams in my top 25. J.J. Avila had a rough game against the Lobos, but he’d led the Rams to an undefeated season prior to their matchup with New Mexico. UNLV is showing some life in the Mountain West and it doesn’t look like the Rams will be able to just walk away with the conference title. San Diego State suffered a bad loss against Fresno State though which shows how down the conference is as a whole.
Added: VCU, Seton Hall, Iowa