NCAA Tournament First Round Preview: Drake
After 6 days of painful waiting, the USC Trojans will finally take the floor for the first time of the NCAA Tournament. The first day offered some huge upsets (#2 Ohio State, #4 Purdue and #5 Tennessee all went down) and dominate performances (Wisconsin, Illinois, Syracuse, Houston and Baylor) all handled business without hesitation. The Trojans will look to avoid the upset bug, against a feisty Drake team.
Drake enters Saturday's contest after an emotional come-from-behind victory against Wichita State in the first four. Drake enters the game with an impressive 26-4 record, and finished 2nd in the Missouri Valley Conference to Loyola Chicago.
On paper, the Trojans will have a significant size and talent advantage, but in March Madness anything is possible. The Bulldogs offense runs through 6'0" PG Jordan Yesufu. The sophomore guard averaged a shade over 12 points per game during the regular season, and his 21 point effort on Thursday spurred the Bulldog rally. Yesufu has the green light from anywhere on the court, and is not afraid of the big moment. A combination of Trojan guards will seek to slow down Yesufu, look for a steady does of Tahj Eaddy and Ethan Anderson to guard the catalyst. Eaddy improved drastically on the defensive end of the court this year, and his quickness coupled with a height advantage should allow him to stay with Yesufu for a majority of the game.
Drake also receives contributions from Tremell Murphy and G DJ Wilkins who both average over 10 points per game. Murphy is a 6'6" Forward who should have his hands full on both ends of the court dealing with the Mobley brothers and Chevez Goodwin. Giving up a minimum of 4 inches is a tough gap to make up, especially against an aggressive and skilled group of Trojan big men. In addition to Murphy Drake starts a massive body at Center in Darnell Brodie. Brodie is a 6'10" and weighs 275 pounds, USC will need to keep him away from the hoop. Offensively, expect the Trojans to work the Mobley's from the wings and take advantage of superior quickness. Brodie will need to play incredibly disciplined basketball and avoid foul trouble if Drake wants to pull of the upset.
The Trojans offense will be key to a postseason run. We have seen how dangerous this team can be when USC converts from the perimeter. Likewise, we have seen what can happen if the shots are not falling and the offense becomes stagnant and very one-dimensional. USC will need to shake of any early jitters, and play focused and energetic basketball.
I was encouraged by the arrival of an aggressive and slightly more selfish version of Evan Mobley in the Pac-12 tournament. Playing on the west coast, a majority of the country has not yet had an opportunity to watch the conference Player of the Year, I expect that to change in the upcoming weeks. The nimble but powerful center is "must watch tv" and the nation is in for a treat.
In this game expect USCs bench to lead a ferocious second charge. Drake is not very deep, and I believe Ethan Anderson's creativity and dribble/drive abilities will lead to easy Trojan scores down low.
There is a lot to digest as we start the dance, but if the Trojans are able to remain calm and play within themselves (especially in the first 6 minutes), this is a game we should win by 9-15 points. Drake has momentum and emotion on their side, and benefit from already having played an elimination game, but this Trojan roster should be too much.
On a side note, and a bit of a bold prediction, look for all Pac-12 teams to advance to the round of 32. Oregon State dismantled Tennessee yesterday, and the remaining 4 teams take the floor today.
Fight On and Beat the Bulldogs!