The USC Men’s Basketball team made national headlines this morning after moving into the top 5 for the first time since 1974! Coach Andy Enfield has the Trojans at 13-0, and one of only two remaining undefeated teams in the nation (defending national champs, Baylor being the other). A Covid breakout within the program will force USC to adapt and adjust to some wonky scheduling quirks as the team looks to makeup postponed games, the first of these instances will occur tomorrow afternoon versus Stanford. The Trojans were originally slated to play the Cardinal last Saturday, but infections within the Stanford program caused the game to be delayed until Tuesday.
The slight change will cause massive inconveniences and logistical nightmares for the Trojans. For starters, USC would normally stay in the bay area following the first leg of the road trip (Cal), however the Trojans returned home following Thursday night’s victory in Berkeley, only to return today for the quick road trip with Stanford. The more troubling component of the delay is that USC will now be forced to play 3 games in 5 days, as the Oregon schools will come to LA later this week. Oregon State has had a tough year so far (3-11) but the Trojans will need to still game plan and prepare, and they have lost valuable practice time due to the Stanford debacle.
That being said, Coach Enfield has had a few extra days to prepare for Jerod Haase’s Cardinal.
The Cardinal enter Tuesday’s game sporting an 8-4 record (1-1 in the Pac-12). Stanford has lost a few games to quality opponents in the aforementioned Baylor Bears and #21 ranked Texas. I am sure it will be mentioned plenty of times during the broadcast tomorrow, but Stanford is one of only 4 teams that are “bigger” than the Trojans on paper, and the Cardinal deploy a very large and very versatile starting lineup.
It is also worth noting that Stanford, like USC, has been forced to shut down for some time due to a Covid outbreak, the Cardinal last played on 12/23, so they have had a good amount of time to game plan for USC.
Those who have been following USC basketball (at least for the last few years) will recognize the majority of Stanford’s lineup. The Cardinal are led by 6’9” Senior Jaiden Delaire. Delaire does a little bit of everything for Coach Haase, he possesses great body control, and is moves extremely well without the ball. He has a knack for getting lost in space, and shows no hesitancy to work off the dribble. Delaire scored a career high 22-points against the Trojans last year in the first meeting, only to be held to 6 in the rematch. Delaire is averaging a shade over 12 points per game and is pulling down 5 rebounds per game for Stanford. He has added a bit of a three point shot to hit game, but the post is where he is most dangerous. Trojan shot blockers need to be smart and stay grounded with Delaire. USCs front court depth should allow the big men to play with a bit more aggressiveness, as Joshua Morgan and a healthy Boubacar Coulibaly should be able to put in good defensive minutes on the Cardinal big man.
Jerod Haase pulled in a huge prospect in the form of 6’8” Freshman Harrison Ingram. The 5-star prospect out of Texas has been as good as advertised through the first 12 games for Stanford. Ingram is averaging 12 points and a team high 7 rebounds per game. Ingram has a certain sense of maturity and poise and never looks uncomfortable on the floor. He has a great size (230 pounds), and uses his frame to cut and weave to the basket. Ingram has shown the ability to step out and hit a three pointer, but typically works off the dribble from the perimeter. He is creative and unselfish, and if he hangs around long enough, he is going to be a good one, USC will need to stay physical with the freshman and work to keep him uncomfortable especially off the dribble.
Another familiar face in the lineup is 6’7” Junior Spencer Jones. I always remember Jones after he gashed USC for 18 points a few years back in his freshman year. Jones is the most dangerous three point shooter on Stanford, but he is converting at just a 30% rate, percentages aside, if Jones gets going he is the most potent scorer on Stanford. Jones is a perfect matchup for Isaiah White, similar builds, similar roles and similar intensity. If Isaiah White is truly back in the rotation, this should be a great assignment for the Trojan bulldog.
Rounding out the starting 5 for the Cardinal are Guard Michael O’Connell and either Brandon Angel or James Keefe. O’Connell is the prototypical facilitator, he is not asked to score, but rather distribute and defend. O’Connell leads Stanford in assists, averaging 4 per game, and is a pesky defender. Boogie Ellis should have a significant advantage on the 6’2” sophomore, and it will be interesting to see how/when Stanford shifts to a zone defense to offer some relief. The smart bet is that Angel will get the nod due to his athleticism, the 6’8” sophomore is a better scorer and rebounder than Keefe, and he is coming off a 17 point performance against Liberty. Angel is converting 42% of his three point attempts and appears to be growing into a larger role for the Cardinal.
Overall, this is an experienced and balanced Cardinal team that tries to outsize and outmuscle its opponents. USC has not yet played a team quite like this, and it should be interesting to see how Andy counters Stanford’s size.
How will Andy match up against the Cardinal? We can assume that Mobley, Peterson, Goodwin and Ellis are all locks for the starting lineup at this point. But what direction will Enfield go with the final spot? Isaiah White looks rejuvenated after the pause, and as mentioned above would be a great matchup for Spencer Jones. Agbonkpolo is a great defender and his mixture of size, athleticism and speed would play very well in this game, or does Andy go small and try and beat Stanford in transition with Ethan Anderson. Anderson rebounds extremely well for a guard, and USC may look to capitalize on a mismatch with Boogie Ellis on a slower perimeter defender. The good news is that all of these are good options, I would be thrilled to see White get the nod, but I have learned not to doubt Andy on these matters.
We touched on the weird circumstances surrounding tomorrow’s 2:00 game. How much film and practice time was spent on Stanford versus prepping for the Oregon schools? Fortunately Oregon State has been a disaster this year, and one would think USC could stand to reallocate some of those minutes for a more dangerous Stanford team. A sub-question here is how well conditioned are the Trojans to play 3 games in 5 days? USC’s depth should help, and look for Andy to save energy if USC has any opportunity to bring the Freshman/bench players into the game a bit sooner than usual.
USC is ranked 5th in the nation, and they are undefeated in conference play, along with UCLA and Arizona, USC is playing with a target on their backs. How will this team respond to receiving every team's best shot? I believe this team is as unselfish as I have ever seen, and are committed to cutting down some nets in March, but all it takes is one off game to see an otherwise perfect season come to an end.
I think USC makes a statement against Stanford, and showcases their ability to win different types of games. Jaiden Delaire is a good player, but I think he will be attacked too frequently on the defensive end by both Mobley and Goodwin to influence this game too much. USC by 15+ in this one!