After picking up a pair of crucial conference wins last week, USC will return to the out-of-conference slate Tuesday night, and will meet Eastern Kentucky.
Before I dive into the preview, I must apologize for my absence last week. Long story short, my wife and I traveled to Cancun/Tulum for a friend's wedding. While out to dinner Wednesday night, we were caught off guard by a storm, the likes of which I have never seen. We were abandoned in the middle of Cancun, while all roads were closed due to flooding. My wife and I, in addition to a few other friends were forced to walk the better part of 10 miles through knee deep water. While we eventually made it back to our hotel in one piece, my phone did not. I was relying on my phone to both stream the game and provide in-game tweets, etc. Technologically abandoned, I had to follow a simple ESPN game cast on the phone's of generous friends. Needless to say, it is difficult to provide solid analysis without actually watching the game. Nevertheless, I am extremely proud of this team and how they performed. I expected a relatively easy win against Utah, and assumed that a good Washington State team in Pullman would give us a tough game, both of which were true.
The polls are starting to take notice too, with USC climbing all the way up to #16 in this week's rankings. USC will put its perfect 8-0 record on the line against the Colonels tonight at the Galen Center.
Eastern Kentucky Preview:
Eastern Kentucky will enter Tuesday's game with a 5-4 record, but currently on a three game losing streak, after falling to West Virginia, Radford and most recently Western Kentucky on Saturday. EKU features a very well balanced offense, that averages 82 points per game, and converts at a 37% clip from three. Like USC, EKUs roster includes 6 players averaging over eight points per game.
EKU is led by 6'9" Marshall-transfer Jannson Williams, who averages 13 points and nearly 7 rebounds per game. While the tallest starter in A.W Hamilton's lineup, Williams is a mainstay on the perimeter for the Colonels. Williams hits 43% of his three point attempts, and moves incredibly well for a front court player. Williams is a pure shooter, and if he gets comfortable from deep, they can keep it close. Williams has already had two games this year in which he made five three pointers, USC will need to run him off the line, and force him to create for himself.
Beyond Williams, EKU relies on a balanced offensive attack featuring Michael Moreno, Devontae Blanton, Coper Robb, Curt Lewis and Braxton Beverly for their scoring. Moreno is a 6'7" Sophomore who will be relied upon to aid Williams on the boards. Moreno boasts a stat line nearly identical to Williams, averaging 13 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. He is athletic and plays with a more physical presence than Williams. Beyond the two front court players, EKU does not feature a rotational player over 6'5". Eastern Kentucky will look to push with tempo and attack from three. The Colonels have taken a whopping 322 three pointers so far this season! For comparison sake, the Trojans have attempted just 138. EKU is content to live and die by the three, with the majority of their damage coming in early transition.
USC should be able to overwhelm EKU with size and speed. The Colonels size, especially in the backcourt should provide a mega advantage for the rangy USC wings. EKU's backcourt will run 5'10", 6'1" and 6'5" (Beverly, Robb and Lewis respectively). Look for Peterson, Ellis, Agbonkpolo, Dixon-Waters and White (if healthy) to wreck havoc on the smaller EKU guards.
Offensively, USC should be able to continue with its standard offense, leaning on Goodwin and Mobley inside, especially against smaller defenders. Mobley's passing ability has been a game changer, and his willingness to find his teammates has made zone defenses ineffective for now. I expect, Peterson to bully defenders all game, and I am going to throw out a very bold prediction, in that Drew will approach a triple double in this game. I believe this is a perfect storm for a huge game from Drew, a smaller defender, a generally outsized opponent, and a young man who is playing with a ton of confidence. This is about the riskiest prediction I have made to date, but something feels very right about it.
Hangover Effect: USC is coming off an emotional road win over a good opponent, there is no doubt about that. Returning home to play a lesser opponent can feel like a bit of a formality, but Coach Andy needs to ensure that the Trojans come out ready to play. I believe that the depth of this team keeps constant pressure on the starters to show up. There are hungry players itching for more minutes, and all Andy needs to see is a hint of laziness to make a change. The constant pressure and friendly competition should be all the motivation the starters need.
Free Throw Shooting: It is quite simple, if the FT shooting does not improve it will cost this team a game this year. Free Throw shooting is about confidence, routine and repetition. We are not going to be a 90% team from the line, and I can accept that, but we are leaving too many points at the stripe. I feel like one good game (80% or better) could swing the tide in the right direction, but it needs to start somewhere. Maybe Chevez's late game FT conversion is the spark the team needs to hit their stride, but it has been painful to watch at times.
No beating around the bush on this one, USC wins by 25 to improve to 9-0!