Beach's Breakdown - USC

The USC Trojans present an intriguing test for the surging Washington Huskies, who return home after a triumphant road trip in Oregon. Trojans Head Coach Tim Floyd's crew improved their Pac-10 record to 3-2 after home victories over the Arizona schools – an impressive 61-49 victory over Arizona State and a narrow one point win over the faltering Arizona Wildcats.

USC remains one of the conference's biggest mysteries; undeniably loaded with quality talent but struggling to make the pieces fit consistently.

Led by Dwight Lewis and junior Daniel Hackett (10.8 ppg, 5.6 apg, 3.8 turnovers per game), the Trojans' backcourt is physically imposing, especially against a Washington perimeter that starts two guards who stand a half a foot or more shorter in 5-foot-11 senior Justin Dentmon (13.8 ppg, 1.3 spg) and freshman sensation Isaiah Thomas (15.8 ppg, 3.2 apg) who stands just 5-foot-8.

That match-up figures to go a long way toward answering the question regarding the importance and value of having a tall backcourt. On the surface, the Trojans would seem to have a distinct advantage given their length and ability to shoot over Washington's shorter defenders, but the answer may not be as simple as it seems.

The Husky guards own a significant advantage in quickness. Big guys trying to guard little guys on the perimeter often leads to embarrassing misreads and untimely fouls for bigger players trying to stop dribble penetration. Where the Trojans gain a decided advantage defensively is closing on shooters and clogging passing lanes: The Trojans are one of the better defensive teams in the conference, leading the Pac-10 in blocks and are right near the top in most other defensive statistical categories. Coach Floyd also likes to mix up his defensive alignments, switching from a pressure man to the 2-3 zone and its many variations constantly throughout the game.

The Huskies aren't a particularly good outside shooting team, though they've improved as the season has progressed, so they are likely to see a lot of zone. Washington is generating tremendous offense from their back court in spite of their 3-point deficiencies due to the re-invigorated Dentmon and the difficult-to-guard Thomas – both of whom reside among the league leaders in scoring so far during conference play.

But the Huskies' biggest match-up advantage is underneath the hoop – despite the presence of exceptional all-conference USC forward Taj Gibson, who is averaging a double-double this season (14.9 points and 10.2 rebounds a game). Gibson is a scoring and rebounding force, but like most of his Pac-10 contemporaries, he struggles with foul trouble due to the Trojans' lack of post depth. Washington's game plan should be similar to what we've seen from them since the start of Pac-10 play: Attack the basket, get Gibson in foul trouble and convert from the free throw line.

With Gibson out of the game, the Trojans become a more one-dimensional, perimeter-oriented team - though they lack the shooters to hang with Washington for long if that happens. The Trojans will looked to promising freshman forward Leonard Washington (8.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg), who has one game under his belt since a high ankle sprain sidelined him for five games, and senior space-filler Keith Wilkinson (3.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg) to fill the void when Gibson is on the bench.

Led by senior Jon Brockman, the Huskies will try to exploit their post depth and dominate the boards for second chance points. The Trojans face a curious decision on whether or not to let Gibson guard Brockman. Gibson is the conference's best shot blocker and Brockman has struggled against him in prior meetings, but they can ill afford to risk early foul trouble on their star forward.

The Trojans will try to counter the Huskies post advantage with their biggest wildcard – highly touted freshman forward Demar Derozan, who will give the Huskies' Quincy Pondexter one of his most difficult defensive responsibilities of the season. Derozan has steadily grown in confidence in recent weeks, and his production has improved accordingly. The long-limbed 6-foot-7 forward from Compton is a tremendous leaper and attacks the basket ferociously, not unlike a motivated Pondexter, and though his once-promising 3-point range has all but abandoned him, Derozan is a legitimate shooting threat out to 20 feet. Defensively, Derozan, who is averaging nearly 33 minutes a game during Pac-10 play, is still a work in progress, lacking the lateral quickness to stick with Pondexter if the inconsistent junior decides to make an impact; he's had 14 or more points in four of the first five Pac-10 games and is averaging nearly seven rebounds a game during that span. Pondexter's recent play suggests he has turned a corner, though we've been down that road before.

Washington has struggled with the athletically-superior USC the past two seasons, dropping three of four during that span, but the Huskies are a vastly improved team on a roll, and are also playing at home in front of a crowd that should already be fairly jacked up due to having Brandon Roy there to have his jersey retired. If the Huskies can minimize Gibson's impact while pressuring the error-prone Trojans' backcourt into mistakes, they can beat USC.


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