The USC men's basketball team started 5-0, but lost its final two games of the AdvoCare Invitational tournament in Orlando, Fla. The Trojans will try to get back in the win column tonight when they travel to UC Santa Barbara for a non-conference matchup with the Gauchos (2-3). Here's what to watch, where you can(not) see the game, a flashback to the last time these teams played and the projected starting lineups.
What to Watch:
Man in the Mask - It isn't quite an iron mask like Leonardo Dicaprio wore, but USC point guard Jordan McLaughlin had to wear a face mask to protect himself against Monmouth on Sunday after his nose was broken in the first half of the Trojans' loss to Xavier. And it appeared to have an effect on his game.
After averaging more than 20 points in USC's first four wins, McLaughlin's scoring has dipped to 15.3 points per game after he scored just 11 points combined in the last two games. Against Monmouth, he shot just 2-for-8 from the field and 0-for-4 from the free throw line. The mask may have been bothering McLaughlin's depth perception, so a couple of practices this week probably helped him get used to the contraption.
USC needs McLaughlin to be a playmaker. When he was injured and had to sit out last season, the offense often became stagnant. The Trojans are better prepared to play without McLaughlin this year, but he still is the catalyst that makes the tem go.
Get Big - With McLaughlin having an off game against Monmouth on Sunday, USC needed its other players to step up and get big. Instead, one of their biggest weapons withered. Two weeks after posting 20 points and 12 rebounds against the same team, Nikola Jovanovic was just 1-of-6 from the field with four points, four rebounds and three turnovers.
Jovanovic has a good set of skills as a European style big man, but he has to be much more aggressive and not be afraid to get big, go up strong and dunk a basketball every once in a while rather than trying to keep his elbows out, draw fouls and trying to bank in shots right around the rim.
Jovanovic played much smaller than his 6-foot-11 frame last game, so he needs to come out and establish that he can be a force in the post against a smaller UC Santa Barbara front court.
Stew Needs to Get Cooking - Elijah Stewart has shown the type of dynamic weapon he can be early this season as he has reeled off quick runs of 8-10 points in just a couple of minutes. His shooting has improved dramatically from last season and he played with a lot of brovado in USC's first four games at the Galen Center. However, when USC went on the road for the AdvoCare Invitational, Stewart seemed to lose some of his confidence in his shot.
After shooting 22-for-41 (53.6 percent) in the first four games, Stewart was an abysmal 4-for-17 (23.5) in Orlando. Stewart has elite athleticism that allows him to shoot over any defender. He just has to regain the confidence he had earlier in the year when he said that if the opponent didn't block his shot, he expected it to go in.
FInding the Shooting Touch - USC is shooting 46.4 percent for the season and 38.5 percent from three-point range, but can the Trojans still win if they don't shoot well? They couldn't in Orlando. USC shot 34.6 percent in the first half against Xavier and fell behind by as much as 32 points in the game and shot 35.7 percent for the game against Monmouth.
Know Thy Enemy - UC Santa Barbara is 2-3 on the season. The Guachos are 0-3 against the Pac-12, having lost to Cal, Oregon State and in the final seconds on a tip in to Arizona State. Outside the Pac-12, UCSB remains undefeated. The Gauchos are still trying to find a way to replace the school's most decorated player in Alan Williams, who graduated as the second-leading scorer and leading rebounder in program history.
On this year's squad, Michael Bryson is the primary scoring threat, averaging 18.8 points per game from the wing. UC Santa Barbara starts four guards and relies on jumpers, which they haven't been knocking down consistently this year. The Gauchos are only shooting 39.8 percent on field goals and 28.0 percent on three pointers.
Last Matchup: UC Santa Barbara won 69-53 on Dec. 4, 2002.
The Trojans are 11-1 all time against UC Santa Barbara, but the Gauchos only win came in the most recent meeting -- 13 years ago. USC shot just 24 percent and were held without a bucket for the final 7:16 and UCSB won going away behind 23 points from Branduinn Fullove. Roydell Smiley led USC with 16 points.
Where to Watch:
Game Time, TV channel: 7:00 p.m. PST, No TV broadcast.
Radio: ESPN 710 AM (Chris Fisher, Jordan Moore)
Projected Starting Lineups:
UC Santa Barbara
G - Eric Childress (6-0 junior)
G - Gabe Vincent (6-3 sophomore)
G - Michael Bryson (6-4 senior)
G - John Green (6-5 senior)
F - Sam Beeler (6-10 senior)
G - Jordan McLaughlin (6-1 sophomore)
G - Julian Jacobs (6-4 junior)
G - Elijah Stewart (6-5 sophomore)
F - Bennie Boatwright (6-10 freshman)
F - Nikola Jovanovic (6-11 junior)