Now’s the time for Andy Enfield to make his money. The USC men's basketball team finished up the non-conference schedule with an impressive 11-2 record, but how will they fare in Pac-12 play. They get to make their first conference impression on the first day of the new year as the Trojans take to the air for a trip to the Washington schools.
USC opens conference play against Washington State in Beasley Coliseum. The Cougars started the season 7-2 before going 1-2 in the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii last week. They are led by double-double machine Josh Hawkinson.
The Trojans were banged up in their non-conference finale against Lafayette, but Julian Jacobs and Bennie Boatwright could return from injuries and Malik Marquetti has recovered from the illness that only allowed him to play two minutes last week.
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:
Injury Concerns - Will the Trojans be playing with a full roster tonight? That’s the biggest question. Last game, USC was down to just three guards. Julian Jacobs and Bennie Boatwright, who can handle the ball and play the small forward position, were both injured and Malik Marquetti couldn’t play for more than two minutes before having to leave the game for good with an illness.
All three players traveled with the team and the Trojans could have all three available, but Andy Enfield listed them all as day-to-day.
Back and Forth Blocks - Washington State enters the game No. 14 in the country with 6.0 blocks per game and in the top 25 nationally in total blocks. Valentine Izundu is second in the Pac-12 and eighth in the country, blocking 3.08 shots per game.
While USC’s leading shot swatter, freshman big man Chimezie Metu, is only seventh in the conference with two blocks per game, the Trojans as a team are No. 6 in the country, blocking 6.5 shots per game. Even though they haven’t played in a week, USC remains in the top 10 in the country with 84 total blocks.
Sunday’s matchup with Washington will be the same story as the Huskies are the Pac-12’s top shot-blocking team currently.
J-Mac is Back - Having Julian Jacobs out three of the last four games may have been a blessing in disguise because it has allowed sophomore star Jordan McLaughlin to get back on track. McLaughlin struggled for three weeks after having his nose broke in a loss to Xavier. But having to play big minutes, including all 40 against Lafayette, and having the ball in his hands the majority of the time in the last three games Jacobs hasn’t played, McLaughlin seems to have got back in the groove.
Against Lafayette, McLaughlin set a school record with 16 assists and nearly went for a triple-double with 14 points and eight rebounds. His success in conference play could determine how well the Trojans can do in the Pac-12.
Stew Returns to the Menu - Elijah Stewart struggled for an entire month. He didn’t have confidence in his shot and he scored in double figures only once in nine games, but then Stewart ended the non-conference schedule with a great performance against Lafayette, tying his career high with 27 points. He showed some swagger and bravado after knocking down shots. He also did more than just score, which is when he is at his best. Along with the career high scoring, Stewart also grabbed six rebounds, had three assists, two steals and a block. Hopefully, it isn’t just a blip but rather the start of a trend.
Know Thy Enemy - Former Oregon head coach Ernie Kent took over the reins in Pullman last year and is slowly trying to turn the tide for the Cougars. Washington State has started his second season 8-4 with losses to a top 10 Gonzaga team and a top five Oklahoma squad. A loss to rival Idaho stands out, especially for a veteran team that has featured five juniors in the starting lineup, but there wasn’t a ton of continuity during the non-conference schedule. The Cougars didn’t use the same starting lineup for more than two games in a row and have been relying on seven newcomers — five of which are transfers.
Hawkinson Hawkinson - It wouldn’t be surprising if Josh Hawkinson said everything twice. He is prone to doubling up. Hawkinson enters the game averaging a double-double with 16.5 points and 10.5 rebounds. He has accumulated an impressive seven straight double-doubles and earned his first career Pac-12 Player of the Week honor earlier this week after producing three of those at the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii. He has posted 29 double-doubles in his last 41 games.
Last Matchup: Washington State won 70-66 on Feb. 25, 2015.
It was too little, too late for USC last time the Trojans matched up with the Cougars. After 10-0 and 14-2 first half runs gave Washington State a 37-27 halftime lead, the Cougars pushed their advantage up to 19 points with less than 12 minutes remaining. That’s when the Trojans came storming back, outscoring the opposition 30-14 to get within three points. But Josh Hawkinson knocked down a free throw and USC turned the ball over on their final possession.
Malik Marquetti had the best offensive performance of his career, scoring 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting. Julian Jacobs and Katin Reinhardt also had 16 points while Washington State’s Dexter Kernich-Drew led all scorers with 19.
Where to Watch:
Game Time, TV channel: 7:00 p.m. PST, Pac-12 Network (JB Long, Dan Dickau)
Radio: AM 690, TuneIn Radio (Chris Fisher, Jordan Moore)
Projected Starting Lineups:
G - Charles Callison (6-0 junior}
G - Ike Iroegbu (6-2 junior)
G - Que Johnson (6-5 junior)
F - Josh Hawkinson (6-10 junior)
C - Valentine Izundu (6-10 junior)
G - Julian Jacobs (6-3 junior)
G - Jordan McLaughlin (6-1 sophomore)
G - Katin Reinhardt (6-6 junior)
F - Bennie Boatwright (6-10 freshman)
F - Nikola Jovanovic (6-11 junior)