The USC Men’s Basketball team improved to 10-0 with a 73-62 victory over Long Beach State on Sunday. The Trojans were rewarded yesterday with a six spot boost in the rankings, landing Andy Enfield’s squad in the top 10!
While the Trojans were able to flip the switch and pull away in the second half of this game, the first half caused some reason for concern as some ugly habits reared their heads. The Trojans played an even first half with The Beach, and required some clutch shooting from Isaiah Mobley and Drew Peterson to keep pace with the feisty LBSU team.
USC began the second half with a 14-0 run and the game was never really in question after that. In another game that featured some highlights and its fair share of question marks, let’s take a look.
Drew Peterson will enter the final week of the non-conference schedule playing his best basketball. The 6’8” Wing has assumed a good deal of primary ball handling responsibilities, and has returned to his “bully ball” ways of old. While many of Peterson’s shots look off-balanced and tricky, he thrives in these situations. He uses his height advantage to get to his spot, and has been incredibly effective in both distributing the ball and scoring. Peterson also drained all three of his three point attempts en route to a 15 point performance. The improved shooting has been encouraging, as Peterson’s ability to spread a defense will be critical to this team’s success moving forward. Drew continues to play tough defense and has learned to capitalize on the advantages given to him due to his length. Without looking too far ahead, Drew will have some gigantic matchups in the near future (Arizona’s Benedict Mathurin and any of the UCLA wings). USC fans should feel optimistic about Drew’s improved play, and I am not sure there is a player more critical to USC’s overall success.
Isaiah Mobley has been spectacular as of late. There were questions in the preseason as to whether or not “Evan’s big brother” would be ready to take the reins and lead this team. Through 10 games, Mobley has been the unequivocal leader of this team. Isaiah has picked right where he left off last March, especially from beyond the arc. Mobley contributed yet another double-double Sunday night, adding 21 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Trojans. For the first time in his Trojan career, Isaiah is looking for his shot, knowing that the team is relying on him for points. Beyond his offensive abilities, Mobley is defending at a high level, and always seems to be in the right position. He has learned to stay on the ground and alter shots rather than trying to block everything in sight. Like Peterson, Mobley’s toughest assignments are yet to come, and we will get a really good look at how he stacks up against similar size and talent.
The switch! Like most teams, USC has suffered through spells of bad offense and sloppy play. What has been impressive is this team’s ability to “turn it on” when it needs to. After a turnover-filled first half, USC came out with a vengeance and put the clamps down on LBSU. You can sense the urgency and pride in the team defense, and the versatility of the roster allows virtually any of the five players (regardless of who is on the Court) to lead the transition break. Perhaps USC has been a bit bored with some of the lower tier opponents, but Arizona is looming on the schedule, and USC will need to play a complete 40 minutes of “on” basketball to defeat an extremely talented Arizona team. We know that the team is capable of finding that next gear, and it is up to Coach Andy to hit the right buttons to bring it out for a full 40 minutes.
USC needs Boogie Ellis to be a major factor scoring the basketball. After being shutout against Eastern Kentucky, we were expecting Boogie to bounce back and provide a jolt to the USC offense. While Ellis contributed 8 points in Sunday’s game, the Junior Guard was once again inefficient, making just 2-8 of his field goal attempts. Ellis’ shots are not missing by much, and most appear to just rim out, but at some point he will need to convert at a higher clip. Ellis remains USC most potent scorer, and we are fortunate that there a few more non-conference games coming up in which Ellis will have every opportunity to find his stride.
There are two obvious pain points for this Trojan team right now, turnovers and defensive rebounding. USC has been careless with the ball for the past two games. The Trojans turned the ball over 15 times against LBSU, which is the second worst performance of the season (just after the 18 against EKU). It is not just that there are turnovers, it is the style of turnover, lazy skip passes, dribbling into traffic and poor court awareness. The Trojans were better in the second half, limiting turnovers to 5, but USC cannot afford to give away possessions, this offense is too efficient to hamstring itself. I understand that turnovers will happen, opponents will make good defensive plays and reads, but the avoidable mistakes and brain-farts need to stop.
Long Beach State pulled down 15 offensive rebounds against USC, which is entirely too high. USC likes to use its versatility to get out into transition, but extra opportunities for opponents is not something that should be sacrificed by cherry picking guards. When USC had all-world centers Evan Mobley and Onyeka Okongwu, it was a foregone conclusion that USC would clean up the defensive glass, which is not the case with this team. USC is fortunate to have good size in the back court, and the Trojans need every man to contribute to the effort. Defensive rebounding has plagued USC in the Andy Enfield era, but this team needs a slight adjustment to its mentality and priority.
At the end of the day, USC is 10-0 and has been rewarded with a #10 ranking! We will learn a whole lot about this team in the next two weeks, and I cannot wait!