The USC men's basketball team finishes off its non-conference schedule and a five-game home stand Wednesday night against Lafayette. The Leopards (3-7) have a variety of scorers with three different players having scored 26 or more points in a game this season, but they have struggled to stop other teams, allowing 85.5 points per game.
After a poor offensive performance on Monday, the Trojans (10-2) would like to get things clicking going forward into Pac-12 play, especially since they will be on the road for five of the next seven games. But first they must finish at home. USC is a perfect 8-0 at the Galen Center and is trying to continue its best start since 2001-02 when the Trojans started 13-2.
Here's what to watch, where you can see the game, a flashback to the last time these teams played and the projected starting lineups.
What to Watch:
Filling the Void - Can the Trojans get the offense going without Julian Jacobs? Jacobs has missed two of the last three games with tendonitis in his left Achilles and those two games have produced the two lowest scoring outputs that USC has had this year. The Trojans have also had more turnovers (25) than assists (19) in those two games.
Jacobs has been the driving force that has propelled the offense. He is leading the Pac-12 with 6.1 assists per game and is second in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.21). Throw in 12.0 points and 5.8 rebounds per game and Jacobs has been one of the most dynamic players on the West Coast. But USC head coach Andy Enfield said after Monday night's game that Jacobs was doubtful to play against Lafayette as the Trojans try to rest him with conference play approaching. Where do they turn if he is indeed unavailble?
Jordan McLaughlin will obviously take over the primary ballhandling duties. But can someone step up to give McLaughlin an opportunity to rest and/or run some plays off the ball? McLaughlin's minutes have increased from an average of 27.7 to 35.5 in the two games that Jacobs has missed.
"Our pace kind of slows down because it's just me," McLaughlin said of the difference without Jacobs. "I try to conserve myself a little bit, push it on some possessions and slow it down on some. That way I'm not as tired and I'm able to play as many minutes as coach needs me to play."
What Jacobs has been great at has been his ability to attack and create open looks for his teammates. He's developed a great court awarenss, something he struggled with his first two seasons. He knows where his teammates are going to be, so he's able to set everyone up. That's been missing without him. One of USC's wing players needs to step up and help fill that void. Both Katin Reinhardt and Elijah Stewart are capable of getting a step on their man and then dishing to teammates when help comes, but are either willing to be more of a facilitator?
Story of Defense - USC has scored more than 100 points twice this season and the Trojans are averaging 81.7 points per game (84.2 with Jacobs). Five players are scoring in double figures and it is obvious USC has improved dramatically on the offensive end in year three under Andy Enfield.
But the real story is the Trojans' defensive improvement.
USC leads the nation in blocked shots and is fourth in blocked shots per game, but that doesn't even tell the whole story. The Trojans can now affect so many shots with their length and height in the lane and that has led to overall defensive improvements throughout. After allowing opponents to shoot 43 and 42 percent in Enfield's first two seasons, they have held the opposition to 38 percent this year -- No. 31 in the country.
"We have more experience and more length," Nikola Jovanovic said.
While Enfield has lamented the lack of steals in comparison to the block party taking place in the lane, USC actually is second in the Pac-12 in steals. How those numbers change once conference play starts will tell a lot, including whether the improvements are USC's or just a product of the level of competition it has faced.
Attack the Rack - Nikola Jovanovic is coming off possibly the best performance of his USC career. It wasn't a flashy performance. He somehow quietly put up 21 points and 16 rebounds. Jovanovic didn't have any really outstanding plays, but he did the yeoman's work in the paint. He banged and battled. He kept seven offensive possessions alive with rebounds and grabbed another nine on defense to tie his career high.
Jovanvoic was a solid, but not spectacular 7-for-13 from the field. More importantly was how he accomplished that. He didn't settle for jump shots and instead drove the ball into the lane. For only the second time in his career, he got sent to the line for double digit free throw attempts. When Jovanovic is aggressive and attacking, he is All-Pac-12 caliber big man. He just has to show that more consistently. Then his abilty to get in the lane will open up even more wide open looks from outside where Jovanovic is 3-for-4 this season.
Know Thy Enemy - Lafayette was an NCAA tournament team last season after winning the Patriot League conference tournament to take the league's automatic bid. The Leopards finished 20-13 after getting walloped by No. 1 seed Villanova to end the year. They returned nine players and two starters, including Patriot League Tournament MVP Nick Lindner. He is averaging 17.4 points this season and has scored at least 15 points in each of the last five games.
The Leopards are averaging 75.6 points per game with four players averaging double figures, but are allowing 85.5 points per game and have allowed opponents to shoot 47 percent from the floor. Lafayette does have some shooters with Bryce Scott one of the top three-point shooters in the nation so far this season. He has made 47 percent of his long-distance shots and is scoring 14 points per game.
Last Matchup: USC won 81-59 on Dec. 28, 2003.
Lafayette entered with an eight-game winning streak and had been receiving votes in the AP Top 25 poll. The Trojans were 4-4 and coming off a loss to Cal Poly. So obviously, the Trojans pretty much ran the Leopards out of the gym. USC raced out to a 19-0 lead and added a 14-0 run to end the first half. Desmon Farmer, battling the flu, scored 13 points during the Trojans' initial burst and poured in 21 of his 23 points in the first half.
Where to Watch:
Game Time, TV channel: 7:00 p.m. PST, Pac-12 Network (Jim Watson, Don MacLean)
Radio: TuneIn Radio (Chris Fisher, Jordan Moore)
Projected Starting Lineups:
G - Nick Lindner (5-11 junior}
G - Bryce Scott (6-2 senior)
G - Monty Boykins (6-5 junior)
F - Matt Klinewski (6-8 sophomore)
F - Nathaniel Musters (6-10 senior)
G - Jordan McLaughlin (6-1 sophomore)
G - Katin Reinhardt (6-6 junior)
G - Elijah Stewart (6-5 sophomore)
F - Bennie Boatwright (6-10 freshman)
F - Nikola Jovanovic (6-11 junior)