Monday night the USC Trojans will face off against the College Basketball Blue-Blood Kansas Jayhawks at historic Hinkle Fieldhouse. To make things simple, this is undoubtedly the biggest game for USC in the Andy Enfield tenure. USC has an opportunity to make a massive statement, not just for our program but for the conference as a whole. At the time of writing, the Pac-12 is an incredible 7-0 in the NCAA Tournament. Both Oregon and Oregon State have already earned a ticket to the Sweet Sixteen, while UCLA, Colorado and USC will have opportunities to advance later today (UCLA is currently up double digits in the early goings of the second half against Abilene Christian). For USC to move on, it will have its toughest test of the year in #3 seed Kansas.
The Jayhawks finished the regular season 20-8 which was good enough for 2nd in the Big 12. All 8 of their loses came to teams that made the NCAA tournament, although I believe I speak for a majority of the country in saying that the hype surrounding the Big10 and Big12 has been put in check following horrid showings thus far from both conferences.
Kansas is led by future Hall of Fame coach Bill Self, who brings over 700 career wins and 14 Big 12 Titles to Indianapolis. Self is widely considered one of the best coaches in the country, and Andy Enfield will have to be ready for a mental chess match.
On the floor Kansas is a balanced offensive team, with a variety of weapons with unique skills. The Jayhawks are led by Ochai Agbaji, a 6'5" Guard who most project to be a future first round pick. Agbahji is athletic and can torch a defense from the interior and from outside, he is a 38% three point shooter, and he is efficient. Agbaji scores 14 points per game and is the catalyst of a potent offense.
Also in the back court, Kansas features Marcus Garrett, who does a bit of everything for Coach Self. Garrett averages 10 points, 4.5 rebounds and leads the team in assists and steals. Garrett is the best perimeter defender that Kansas has, and he figures to play a large role in the outcome of this game.
Inside Kansas will rely on David McCormack to slow down the brothers Mobley. McCormack recently joined the team in the bubble after testing positive for Covid-19 during the Big 12 Tournament. McCormack is 6'10" and averages 13.7 points per game and a shade over 6 rebounds. Kansas is also waiting to hear about Jalen Wilson's eligibility for Monday's game. Wilson also tested positive during the Big 12 Tournament and is reported to be in Indianapolis waiting to hear from the health experts. If Wilson is granted permission to play, it is unclear how many minutes he will see, but it will certainly be another asset for Coach Self to have an average of 12 points and 8 rebounds available.
In many ways, the Kansas offense resembles USCs, if they are converting from deep, they are difficult to slow down. Kansas is large in the back court with all three starting guards standing 6'5" and above. This will be a tougher matchup for Tahj Eaddy and Ethan Anderson, and I anticipate that Coach Enfield will alternate back and forth to zone to combat some of the size Kansas has. Isaiah White, Drew Peterson and Max Agbonkpolo are all capable defenders, and will need act quickly and decisively if the Trojans are to win.
This iteration of the Jayhawks is quite a bit different than others of Bill Self era, mainly on the defensive side of the ball. Compared to previous high-powered offenses this Kansas team relies on their defense, and give up roughly 66 points per game. That being said, certain vulnerabilities were exposed in their Kansas' first round matchup with Eastern Washington. The Eagles torched Kansas for 46 first half points en route to an 84 point performance. Brothers Tanner and Jacob Groves combined for 58 points (9-16 from 3) and gave Kansas everything they could handle down the stretch. Kansas has holes on defense, and USC will look to capitalize.
The Trojans will run their offense inside out, and look to get Evan Mobley touches early. Both teams will learn quickly if McCormack is capable of slowing down the younger Mobley. If he cannot, Kansas will need to send help, and then the offense will rely on its perimeter players to knock down a few shots. Tahj Eaddy had a slow first round game, and I expect the experienced guard to come ready to play. Drew Peterson was a difference maker in the game against Drake, finding creative ways to the hoop early and often. The Trojans will have a size advantage, and run a deeper bench, both things that should play into USCs strength.
USC and Kansas are both aware of what has happened in the tournament, games do not take place in a vacuum, and I think the entire country has been put on notice. The Pac 12 is full of competitive teams, and USC is no different. The Trojans are confident and will not be intimidated by the Kansas on the front of the Jayhawk jerseys.
I have always been told that if you have the best player on the court, you have a chance. With the elimination of Oklahoma State (Cade Cunningham) and Iowa (Luka Garza), Evan Mobley is likely the best player left in the tournament. USC has more than a "chance" to win this game, and I think they will. The hard work that this coaching staff has preached on the defensive end will continue to pay dividends and USC will advance to a date with Oregon in the Sweet Sixteen. USC 77-Kansas 72.
https://twitter.com/FightHoops for live tweets and analysis during the game.