What to watch as USC takes on Baylor in the Round of 32

What to watch Sunday evening as the USC men's basketball team plays Baylor in the NCAA tournament Round of 32 in Tulsa at 4:45 p.m. PST.

When USC’s Chimezie Metu gets the ball in the post and tries to back down Baylor forward Johnathan Motley on Sunday, he will be going against what could be his future self.

Motley, a redshirt junior, has gone from around 200 pounds as a freshman to becoming a 240-pound beast that averages 17.3 points and 9.9 rebounds while shooting 51.6 percent

"He's just a monster, Godzilla, King Kong, that doesn't even compare. He's a monster,” teammate Ishmail Wainwright said earlier this week. “This is the more mature Bucket Motley.”

Listed at 6-foot-8 and as light as 195 pounds by ESPN’s recruiting site coming out of high school, Motley redshirted his first year. He was constantly getting pushed around by former Baylor bigs Cory Jefferson, Rico Gathers and Isaiah Austin. He needed to get stronger, so he spent more and more time with Baylor’s strength and conditioning coach Charlie Melton.

"He worked with me so much during my redshirt year. We found [time] to lift weights like every day, any chance we got we lifted weights.

Motley credits Melton for helping him put on 20-30 pounds of muscle to get up to 240 pounds with around a 6% body fat. The added weight and strength has allowed Motley to transform from a lightly recruited three-star prospect with a limited offer sheet into the school’s first unanimous All-Big 12 selection and an All-American that will be a likely first round pick, if he chooses to leave school after this season.

Though Metu was more highly rated coming out of high school and hasn’t gained an extra two inches, he could still follow a similar path. Some people believe USC's sophomore forward will leave and enter the NBA draft after this season, but coming back for another year could net Motley-esque returns.

Metu still lacks the strength to play with his back to the basket regularly and to consistently guard elite big men. He could still refine several areas of his game to become a double-double machine like Motley. Fourteen times this season Motley has doubled up, including an outlandish performance against Texas when he scored 32 points and grabbed 20 rebounds earlier this year. 

"Motley has great footwork in low post, and he can also step out a little bit,” USC head coach Andy Enfield said. “They can dominate the low post. They had 50 points in the paint in the first round game. We can't give up 50 points in the paint and expect to win.”

Motley has 75 career starts and that experience is evident in his ability to open up the floor for Baylor. The offense often runs through him leading to double teams that can get the Bears’ shooters some open looks. Metu shows flashes, but has yet to become that dominant dump-it-in-every-time type of big that commands constant double teams.

The M&M battle down low will likely have a big impact on Sunday’s outcome. Can Metu show he is ready for the next level with a strong performance against one of the nation’s best or will Motley prove what extra time in the weight room can do for a collegiate athlete?

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:

Similar Paths - There are a lot of similarities between USC and Baylor. Like the Trojans, Baylor jumped out to a phenomenal start this season, opening the year 15-0. Unlike USC, there were some marquee victories included in that hot start that pushed them all the way to No. 1 — a 17-point win over Oregon and triumphs over Michigan State, Xavier, Louisville and Virginia Commonwealth.

Both teams undefeated starts only put them under more scrutiny when they struggled during the stretch run of conference play. After losing four of their first six Pac-12 games, USC reeled off five wins in a row before facing the top 10 gauntlet that was Oregon, UCLA and Arizona. The Trojans also inexplicably lost at Arizona State blowing a 10-point lead in the final four minutes of the game.

Baylor was hanging strong in the top five at 20-1, but the wheels started to fall off when the Bears were on the road. They lost four of their last five road games and added a loss to Kansas at home and a first round Big 12 tournament exit to finish the regular season 5-6. The Bears also struggled in the first half of their NCAA tournament opener against No. 13 seed New Mexico State, but turned up both the offense and defense in the second half, outscoring the Aggies 53-33.

Dynamic Defense - Both teams feature long, athletic players both on the wings and frontcourt that make it hard on offenses. Baylor led the Big 12 holding teams to 64.3 points per game in conference play and led the league in field goal defense at 41 percent. The Bears are ranked in the top 30 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, effective field goal percentage defense, field goal percentage defense, blocked shots per game and finished No. 37 in the country allowing opponents to make just 31.8 percent of their three-point attempts.

The Trojans will have to make shots against Baylor, but the Bears do a good job of negating open looks with a zone that appears to stretch across the arena from concession stand to concession stand because of the long, active arms they have on the wings.

Comeback Kids - Dramatic comebacks have become commonplace this season for USC. After rallying from a 17-point second half deficit against Providence in the First Four round and a 12-point hole in their NCAA tournament first round matchup with SMU, the Trojans now have overcome double-digit deficits for 13 come-from-behind wins. That’s HALF of their season win total. 

The Trojans also had another pair of wins where they trailed by nine, giving them 15 wins this season where they were down by nine points. That’s more wins than 123 Division I teams had on the season this year.

Baylor is no stranger to come-from-behind wins either. Against Louisville, the Bears scored just two field goals in the first 13 minutes of the game, falling behind 25-5 and by as many as 22 before rallying in the second half to win the Battle 4 Atlantis championship by three. Earlier in the same tournament, they had trailed both VCU and Michigan State at halftime only to come back for victories.

"For a while there, we led the nation in comeback wins from being down at halftime,” Baylor head coach Scott Drew said on Saturday. “So I don't know who wants to be up at halftime. Maybe it's better if you're down in this game.”

USC is 19-1 when leading at halftime while Baylor is 9-2 when trailing at the half this season.

Key Boards - Thanks in part to USC besting SMU in the rebounding department, Baylor moved up to third in the country in rebounding margin (+9.0), taking the spot where SMU had been entering the NCAA tournament. Baylor is built much different than the Mustangs were, but it will again be crucial for the Trojans to attack the glass in full force and try to win the rebounding battle. 

USC is 16-1 when it outrebounds its opponent. To best the Bears, the cardinal and gold have to keep Baylor, and particularly Motley, off the offensive glass. Baylor is just a middle-of-the-road defensive rebounding team, but is No. 27 in the country averaging 12.8 offensive boards per game.

The Trojans have to rebound as a team once again. That means all five players crashing the defensive boards instead of guards trying to leak out to get some transition points.

Making a Run - In the history of the USC basketball team, only three other times have the Trojans won multiple games in the NCAA tournament. Only twice since the field expanded to 64 teams (and now 68) has USC made it to the Sweet 16.

The Trojans are 14-19 all time with their only Final Four appearance coming in 1954 where they lost to Bradley by two points and lost to Penn State in the third place game. In the 63 years since that season, USC has made just 16 tournament appearances and entering this year’s March Madness had just one win -- a 10 versus 7 upset of Boston College in 2009 -- in the past 10 years. This is USC’s first back-to-back appearances since making the tournament three straight years from 2007 to 2009,

Knockdowns - Against a high-caliber team like Baylor, USC has to be able to knock down its open looks from outside. Several of the Baylor players and coaches have chimed in about the Trojans’ shooting ability, but USC shot just 8 for 28 (28.6%) on threes against SMU and 7 for 19 (36.8%) the round before that versus Providence.

USC has to make threes, in particular the corner three-pointer that is such a vital shot in the Trojans’ drive-and-kick offense, but they have not been good shooting the ball outside of the Galen Center. At home, USC makes 39.23 percent of the threes taken, but away from home it shoots only 32.70 percent. 

Stopping the Three Ball - Both Baylor and USC shoot the three-point shot at 36.1 percent for the season. Whoever defends the three ball may just earn themselves a trip to Madison Square Garden for the Sweet 16. When USC stops the three, it is at its best. Opponents have shot just 33.8 percent on three-pointers in USC's wins, but that number shoots up to 44.1 percent in Trojan defeats.

Experience Across the Board - While USC will start a freshman and two sophomores and rely heavily on two other freshmen and a redshirt sophomore off the bench, Baylor’s starting five have accumulated 21 years of college. The Bears start three fourth-year juniors, a fourth-year senior and a fifth-year junior. USC’s first five have a combined 11 years of collegiate experience.

The Gold is Golden - USC has worn its cardinal jerseys in its first two NCAA tournament games this season, improving to 5-4 this season in the red, but the gold uniforms remain unbeaten with a perfect 8-0 mark. 

The Trojans are also undefeated when they have five players score in double figures (7-0), score more than 90 points (5-0) or hold an opponent to less than 70 points (13-0).

Flashback:

Last Matchup: Baylor won 84-83 on Tuesday, Dec. 28, 1976. 

The Bears evened the all-time series with a one-point win in a game held in El Paso, Texas. USC won the only other matchup between the schools, 72-59, during the 1955-56 season

Where to Watch:

Game Time, TV channel: approximately 4:45 p.m. PDT, TruTV(Kevin Harlan, Dan Bonner, Reggie Miller, Dana Jacobson)

Radio: AM 710 (Chris Fisher, Jordan Moore); Westwood One (Craig Way, P.J. Carlesimo)

Follow Along: GameTracker. USC Twitter - @USC_Hoops; Southern Methodist Twitter - @BaylorMBB

Projected Starting Lineups:

Baylor
G - Manu Lecomte (5-11 redshirt junior)
G - King McClure (6-3 sophomore) 
G - Ishmail Wainright (6-5 senior)
F - Jonathan Motley (6-10 redshirt junior)
F - Jo Luai-Acuil Jr. (7-0 redshirt junior)

USC 
G - Jordan McLaughlin (6-1 junior)
G - De'Anthony Melton (6-4 freshman)
G - Elijah Stewart (6-5 junior)
F - Bennie Boatwright (6-10 sophomore)
F - Chimezie Metu (6-11 sophomore)

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