Monday, March 31, 2008

Double D, My Favorite

No, I'm not referring to the bust size of a former bruin Las Vegas cocktail waitress... I'm referring to incoming freshman Demar Derozan (Double D). Derozan recently participated in the McDonald's High School All-American game, where he scored 10pts in 17 minutes while also claiming the crown at the Powerade Jam Fest. Here is the latest mix tape from highlighting a spectacular senior season for Demar...

Mayo's iPod

I doubt he has any Beach Boy tracks on his iPod, but I have a feeling this song made its way into his iTunes...

I heard it in a Dream

I can hear it now....


And now the starters for your USC Trojans!

At forward, a 6'8" sophomore from LYNWOOD, California. Wearing the #5... Daaa-von Jefffferson!

At the other forward position, a 6'6" freshman from COMPTON, California. Wearing the #24... Demar Deroooozan!

At guard, a 6'5" junior from Pesaro, Italy. Wearing the #13... Daniel Hackett!

At center, a 6'9" junior from Brooklyyyyn, New York. Wearing the #22... Taj Gibsooon!

And at the other guard position, a 6'5" sophomore from Huntington, West Virginia. Wearing the #32...... OJ Mayooooo!!!

The Trojans are coached by Tim Floyd!

Assisted by Bob Cantu, Gib Arnold, and Phil Johnson.

What a starting lineup that would be. The Trojan faithful cannot help but hope that freshman sensation OJ Mayo decides to return to for his sophomore season. The Trojans would field the most talented starting lineup in the conference, if not the entire country. The lethal combination of Davon Jefferson & Demar Derozan would cause tremendous mismatch opportunities, leaving opposing teams searching for defenders athletic enough to keep up with these two high fliers.

The ball however rests in OJ Mayo's hands. According to a recent LA Times article fellow freshman Davon Jefferson is planning on returning for his sophomore season. And Taj Gibson made his intentions clear at the Trojans award banquet, where he announced his plans to stay for his junior year. The Trojans will also get back 6'7" redshirt sophomore Kasey Cunningham and 7'0" redshirt freshman Mamadou Diarra both of which spent the 2007-2008 season recovering from injury. The Trojans also add Donte Smith, a 5'11" sophomore transfer from Mt. Sac Community College.

If Mayo does decide to declare for the NBA draft, the loss will be softened by the addition of Derozan, Rivals #2 ranked player in the country. However I'd much rather see Mayo dishing out alley oops to Derozan than have to dish out $200 for an authentic OJ Mayo NY Knicks jersey.

Fight On!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

#6 USC vs. #11 Kansas State - Preview

Much has been made about the battle of freshmen between O.J. Mayo and Michael Beasley, or Mayo's life-long friendship with Bill Walker, but all that stuff won't matter once the ball is tipped-off. We don't have much time to get a full preview in, as RG3 said in the previous post, we're off the Vegas to get our gaming on. I have seen Kansas State play a few times both this year and last season, so I have some sense as to how they play the game. However, I don't know much about Kansas State's supporting cast. Nevertheless, if USC is to win tomorrow and advance to the 2nd round, they must accomplish these 3 goals. Do that, and we can expect to see Wisconsin on Saturday, one win away from consecutive Sweet 16's.

3 Keys to Victory:

Defensive Rebounding -- The #1 priority for the Trojans will be defensive rebounding. Kansas State led the Big 12 Conference in offensive rebounds per game with a staggering 16.32 average. Coach Tim Floyd's teams are always tough defensively, USC is 14 in the nation in field goal percentage defense and will force a lot of missed shots, which will create opportunities for Beasley and Walker to gain 2nd chances. Floyd and his staff understand that the Wildcats pick up a lot of garbage points on easy put backs and will have to look no further back than that Sweet 16 game against North Carolina last season where the Trojans got absolutely hammered on the offensive glass. Davon Jefferson and Daniel Hackett need to box out their guys and help Taj Gibson down low.

Taj Gibson -- Gibson needs to have a strong all-around game offensively, defensively, and rebounding, but his biggest contribution will have to come on the offensive end. The Wilcats will have to defend Gibson with Beasley since he is their biggest player inside. Taj is going to have to win this individual matchup and make Beasley work hard defensively. If he can get going early, Kansas State will be forced to double which will open things up for Mayo, or Beasley will be in foul trouble.

Turnovers -- The Wildcats do not want to play in the halfcourt against USC's tough defense, so they'll look to run and get easy fastbreak points whenever possible. Kansas State tends to stand around and just watch Beasley when forced to play slow, so look for them to pressure the Trojans and speed up the game. They are at their best when they are out in the open court getting others involved. Dwight Lewis must make strong, accurate passes and not give one away like he's done against tough defensive teams like ucla. Mayo and Hackett need to take good care of the ball and play under control.

USC has all the intangibles in this game. They have toughness, NCAA Tournament experience, and a brilliant coaching staff. They played against Kevin Durant's Texas team last year and proved that one player cannot win games in March. For these reasons, I like USC in this one. Prediction: USC 66, Kansas State 60.

Fight On! Beat the Wildcats!


The USC Sports Talk crew is off to Vegas tomorrow to enjoy our Spring Break and the start of the NCAA Tournament. We'll be watching the USC game at the Caesar's Palace Sports Book, so you can be assured there will be some wagers on the line. Hopefully USC can have a good showing at the tournament and make a decent run. Regardless though, we'll be hitting up the bars/clubs and making it rain at the Roulette tables. Cheers!

Fight On!

Monday, March 17, 2008

USC Draws #6 seed in Midwest Region

The Trojans (21-11) have made it to their 2nd consecutive NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001 and 2002. They will play in Omaha, Nebraska on Thursday at about 4:10 (PST) as the #6 seed in the Midwest Region against the #11 seed Kansas State Wildcats (20-11). Let's take a first glance at the Wildcats, as well as the rest of the field in our Midwest Regional.

USC Outlook:
The Wildcats, led by the nation's most talented player in freshman Michael Beasley, give the Trojans one of the more difficult first round opponents in the field. The Trojans' road to the Final Four is also one of the most difficult, with potential games against Wisconsin (2nd Rd), Georgetown (Sweet 16), and Kansas (Elite 8), before meeting North Carolina in the Final Four. No question that this was a tough draw, but if you want to be the best, you have to play the best. This team is already battle tested after playing 15 games against Tournament teams, including 5 games against this year's #1 seeds (ucla 3 times, Kansas, Memphis), with a record of (7-8) in those games. USC is also playing its best basketball of the season right now after enduring a mid-season struggle that saw them start (0-3) in Pac-10 play lose sophomore guard Daniel Hackett to injury.

How Kansas State stacks up vs. USC:
Kansas State finished 3rd in the Big 12 at (10-6), while USC finished tied for 3rd in the Pac-10 at (11-7). However, Kansas State is only (3-8) against Tournament teams with marquee wins over Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas A&M. They played two games against #1 seeded Kansas and one game against #2 seeded Texas, so they aren't quite as battle tested as USC. The Wildcats were blown away at #3 seed Xavier 103-77, whereas USC split two games with #3 seed Stanford. Kansas State has played 5 games against common opponents with a record of (3-2) in their games against Oregon (L 77-80), Cal (W 82-75), Oklahoma (W 84-82), Kansas (W 84-75), and again Kansas (L 74-88). USC was (4-2) against those same teams. Kansas State beat USC on a neutral court last season in Las Vegas by a score of 68-55. The Trojans led 28-23 at the half in that game and held Kansas State to a 36.7% field goal percentage, but they turned the ball over 27 times and sent the Wildcats to the free throw line 41 times. They return 2 senior guards in Clent Stewart and Blake Young and forward Bill Walker from that team, but add the super talented Beasley.

Kansas State Tidbits:
Individual Stats -- Beasley averages 26.5 points and 12.4 rebounds per game and can shoot the 3 (38.9%) very effectively. At 6-10, 235 lbs, he reminds me of Lamar Odom of the L.A. Lakers, except far better. Bill Walker (6-6, 220) averages 15.8 points and 6.4 rebounds per game and is a lot like our Davon Jefferson, both in their game and character issues. Walker is explosive on the offensive boards and can just jump out of the gym, but he is easily frustrated and can disappear from games.

Team Stats vs. USC Team Stats (courtesy of NCAA):
Category Rank ActualUSC Avg (Rank)
Scoring Offense (328 ranked) 22 78.7 69.1 (164)
Scoring Defense (328 ranked) 169 68.963.2 (55)
Scoring Margin (328 ranked) 31 9.8 5.9 (76)
Field-Goal Percentage (328 ranked) 153 44.3 48.1 (17)
Field-Goal Percentage Defense (328 ranked) 92 42.2 39.1 (14)
Three-Point Field Goals Per Game (328 ranked) 174 6.5 5.6 (261)
Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage (328 ranked) 264 32.1 38.4 (43)
Free-Throw Percentage (328 ranked) 170 68.9 68.5 (179)
Rebound Margin (328 ranked) 4 8.0 0.5 (159)

Final Midwest Predictions:
This is the group of death, with the obvious favorite being Kansas, but there is a nice balance of teams and an excellent chance for some upsets.

Best Team -- Kansas
I think Kansas will win this bracket, but that's only because they have a much easier road to the regional final than the teams at the bottom of the bracket (Georgetown, Wisconsin, USC) who will have to beat up on each other in the first 3 rounds. They have a deep bench and should coast all they way meeting Georgetown in the Regional Final. Many "experts" have chosen Kansas as their champions, but I won't go that far. We've all seen Bill Self's teams choke on the big stage, and I don't see why this year will be any different.

Toughest Team -- Georgetown
If Kansas has another early exit, expect Georgetown to win this region. The Hoyas lead the nation in FG% defense and are in the top 10 in scoring defense. They are experienced, very well coached, balanced, disciplined, have a senior leader in center Roy Hibbert, and the probably the best sixth man in the nation in Patrick Ewing, Jr.

Most Underrated Team -- Vanderbilt
The Commodores, like the Trojans, ran into a mid-season struggle after jumping out to an amazing (16-0) start, but recovered well enough to finished (26-7) and 3rd in the SEC with a record of (10-6). This team has a senior leader in guard Shan Foster (SEC P.O.Y.) and was one of only 3 teams to beat Tennessee this season. Kansas better not overlook this team in the Sweet 16.

Darkhorse Final Four Team -- USC
To say that the Trojans have a difficult path would be an understatement, which is why many will not pick USC making a deep run in the Tournament. But if they can get past a dangerous Kansas State team, they won't be playing any offensive juggernauts until Kansas in the regional final. USC plays excellent defense and has one of the best coaches in the country in Tim Floyd, and if they can rebound against Wisconsin and Georgetown, then a rematch with Kansas in the regional final is not out of the question.

Bracket Buster -- Clemson
The Tigers are one of the most talented and athletic teams in this entire tournament. If they can build off of that impressive ACC Tournament and put it all together, this team can go a long way. This team reminds me a lot of that Final Four LSU team that had Tyrus Thomas and Glen Davis that upset Duke in the Sweet 16 two years ago. Most people have Kansas at least in the Final Four, but be wary of Clemson.

We'll have a more detailed preview of the game later this week.

Fight On! Beat the Wildcats!

Click on the image below to view the First Round matchups in Midwest Bracket along with the dates and times.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

USC can't hold on, ucla wins 57-54

USC came up just short on Friday against the hated bruins and will now wait for their NCAA Tournament opponent and destination on Sunday's CBS Selection Show. Many will remember O.J. Mayo, playing in what could be his first and only Pac-10 Tournament, miss the potential game-tying 3-point attempt at the end of regulation, but that is not why the Trojans lost this game. It was a tale of two halves, but USC's brilliant 1st half performance was matched by ucla in the 2nd half. I was there in Staples Center, among mostly bruins fans, and it a tough loss to swallow. I want to reflect on this one before we move forward to the "Big Dance," when it really matters.
This game was decided when the bruins went on a 17-2 run that turned an 8-point deficit into a 7 point lead. USC put itself in a position where they had to play catchup for the entire 2nd half. That is a shame because right before that 17-2 bruins run, USC was rolling. Davon Jefferson led all scorers with 12 points at the half, and Keith Wilkinson came off the bench to hit back to back 3 pointers that put USC ahead 30-22. USC had its foot on ucla's throat, leading 34-26 in the waning seconds of the first half. Ucla was down a starter after Luc Richard Mbah a Moute left the game with an ankle injury, and freshman sensation Kevin Love had been a non-factor to that point. The Trojans were the aggressors on both sides of the court and stifled the bruins with their "triangle and 2" defense, forcing the bruins to settle for shots from the perimeter.
Momentum, however, was about to shift to the enemies from Westwood. Just before halftime, ucla's Darren Collison raced down the court and put up a desparation shot at the buzzer that sank to the bottom of the net, cutting the Trojans' lead to 34-28, and ucla was to have possession to start the 2nd half. The bruins scored a lay-up on their first possession and then stole the inbounds pass for another lay up. The Trojans were stunned as their lead was cut to 34-32. That's when Kevin Love took over, scoring the bruins' next 11 points to cap off the 17-2 run to give the bruins an insurmountable 41-34 lead. Davon Jefferson was scoreless in the 2nd half and committed 4 turnovers in the game. Taj Gibson was frustrated by ucla's aggresive double teams and finished with a lowly 5 points and 4 turnovers.

The bruins just outplayed us in the 2nd half, mostly due to Kevin Love, who finished with a game high 19 points and 10 rebounds. Bruins coach Ben Howland adjusted well to the triangle and 2 defense and forced Tim Floyd to abandon it and play a traditional man to man defense down the stretch. The bruins then held on and survived a late flurry from Mayo who scored 5 straight points to cut the lead to 2 at 54-52. After an exchange of free throws, USC trailed by only 3 at 57-54, and the stage was set for a classic finish. Mayo would have become an instant legend if he could have buried that 3 pointer over Josh Shipp. I would have liked our chances in overtime, especially after weathering the storm and battling back to tie the game, but instead he'll have to wait for Mayo to pull of some March Madness magic in the NCAA Tournament.

Fight On!
[photos] courtesy of: LA Times

Friday, March 14, 2008

USC 59 Arizona State 55

USC handled the Sun Devils and now sets its eyes on the hated bruins for a semifinal game today at 6pm (PST). Some people have said the refs gave this game to the Trojans after ASU's Jeff Pendergraph was called for an over the back foul with 16 seconds left in the game and the Trojans leading 57-55. Instead of tying the game, Pendergraph received his 5th foul and USC's Davon Jefferson hit both free throws that virtually sealed the win for the Trojans. Although I agree that it was a bad call, to say the refs gave the game away is not fair to the Trojans. USC played some terrific defense down the stretch, limiting the Sun Devils to 28.6% shooting in the 2nd half and not allowing a field goal in the last 9:35 of the game. Daniel Hackett frustrated ASU's James Harden all game long as he shot 6-13 from the field for 16 points. O.J. Mayo turned in another solid performance with 23 points and 6 assists. Just win and move on to the next round, that's what March Madness is all about and that's what the team did yesterday.

Now it's on to today's semifinal matchup against ucla. Throw out the records and seedings in this game. I like USC's chances but if they are to win, they need to cut down significantly on the turnovers. USC's 19 turnovers yesterday led to 24 points for the Sun Devils. We all remember O.J. Mayo's forgettable stat line against the bruins at the Galen Center -- 4 points, 10 turnovers. To say that Mayo has rebounded nicely since that game would be an understatement. Both teams have been on a tear lately, USC having won 6 of 7 and ucla having won 8 in a row. Missing from the last contest was Daniel Hackett, who should be a big factor today defensively. PCBestever and I will be there, albeit in the nose-bleed section, but we'll be there supporting our guys. Remeber tip-off is at 6pm.

Fight On! Beat the bruins!!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Pac-10 Tournament Underway

The Pac-10 Conference Tournament got underway last night with 9th seeded Cal defeating 8th seeded Washington 84-81 in a very entertaining game. The Cal-Berkeley Golden Bears will now get another crack at top-seeded ucla today at about 2:30pm. In the nightcap, 7th seeded Arizona blew past 10th seeded Oregon State 87-56 and now sets up a key game against #2 Stanford later tonight.

USC tips off against Arizona State at noon (PST) and will look to avenge their March 1st loss in Tempe. The Sun Devils defeated the Trojans 80-66 and a controversial game where the Devils shot what seemed like 100 free throws to about 5 for USC. The key for the Trojans will be stopping freshman sensation James Harden, who had his way with Dwight Lewis in the last meeting, finishing with 24 points. You can catch the action on FSN. We'll be back tonight with a post-game write up.

Fight On! Beat the Devils!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Trojans sweep Cal and Stanford

The USC Trojans defeated 7th ranked Stanford 77-64 earlier this afternoon and will enter the Pac-10 Tournament on fire after sweeping the bay area schools this weekend. The men closed out the regular season in style with a record of (20-10) overall and (11-7) in the Pac-10, finishing tied for 3rd in the conference with Washington State. USC played out of its mind on Saturday, and reaped the rewards of the incredible effort that they put into this game on both ends of the floor. O.J. Mayo led the Trojans in scoring yet again with 25 points, but it was a total team effort tonight. The Trojans out-rebounded the Cardinal 47-31, despite the presence of Stanford's 7-foot Lopez twins, thanks to the play of forwards Taj Gibson (20 pts, 11 rebs) and Keith Wilkinson (4 pts, 8 rebs) and some help from the guards (Mayo had 8 rebs). USC's defense was able to contain the twins for most of the game by using a lot of full-court pressure, speeding up the tempo of the game and taking them out of their comfort level. Offensively, Mayo continued his hot play and put on a show in front of a CBS national tv audience. Those who tuned in were not disappointed, as seen by plays like this...

[video courtesy of Message Board]

Lost in Mayo's current hot streak is the re-emergence of Taj Gibson, who got off to a slower than expected start this season. He's been our steadiest player since the Trojans got off to that dismal (0-3) start in Pac-10 play. USC is (11-4) since then, which is incredible when you consider the absence of starting point guard Daniel Hackett, but that would not have been possible without Gibson. He had that key blocked shot in the closing minutes of USC's win at ucla, and carried the team on his back when we hosted the bruins at the Galen Center. Gibson has been scoring at will, staying out of foul trouble, controlling the boards, blocking shots, and playing with emotion out there. USC seems to be peaking at just the right time. Coach Tim Floyd has found two very reliable players off the bench in Wilkinson and point guard Angelo Johnson, who has started some games and played some valuable minutes for Hackett both at the beginning of the season and during his recent back injury. With the regular season in the books, Coach Floyd can now start gearing his squad for the "Big Dance." Let's take a quick peak at next week's Pac-10 Tournament, hosted by the Staples Center, which gets underway Wednesday evening.

The Trojans have earned the #4 seed in the Pac-10 Tourney, having lost the tie-breaker since they were swept by Washington State, and will play 5th-seeded Arizona State in a quarterfinal match-up on Thursday at approximately 6pm (PST). USC is a lock for the NCAA Tournament, but it can go a long way towards improving its seeding with an impressive showing at Staples. USC's two most recent losses came against the teams that they will likely face in the next two games. The prospects of facing Arizona State (quarterfinal opponent) and ucla (potential semifinal opponent) on consecutive nights makes for a very intriguing tournament. I expect every die hard Trojan, living in the L.A. area to come out and support our team. We made it to the final last year, let's go out and finish it this time. Below is the bracket (click on image to enlarge), courtesy of season guys, but there's still work to do.

Fight On! Beat the Devils!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Trojans fall at ASU 80-66

It had all the makings of a classic "trap game." USC didn't appear to want this game as bad as Arizona State did, and it showed in the final box score. ASU played like their backs were against the wall, got a few fortunate calls from the refs, and got seemingly every break in the contest. Most of the Trojans simply failed to show up yesterday. Dwight Lewis looked timid offensively and got dominated defensively by ASU's James Harden, who finished with 24 points on 7 for 8 shooting. Forwards Davon Jefferson, Taj Gibson, and Keith Wilkinson combined for a total of 13 points and each fouled out of the game. Guards Angelo Johnson and Daniel Hackett played hard, but they also had their fair share struggles offensively with only 9 combined points and 7 turnovers. There is one Trojan who stepped up his game though. Freshman guard O.J. Mayo carried the Trojans all game and finished with a career high 37 points, which included a sizzling 7-10 from 3-point land and 6-7 from the free throw line. Mayo has been on an absolute tear since that forgettable game he had against the bruins. He is now peaking at the right time and is prepping himself for a nice tournament run. Here's a nice quote from Sun Devils Coach Herb Sendek on Mayo's performance:
"He was incredible," Sendek said. "You have to understand, we're emphasizing him, and he's still getting 37."

Still, Mayo was disappointed in the loss, and showed his maturity again by calling this a team loss. Here's O.J. Mayo's post-game quote summarizing the Trojan defeat:
"We lost our poise," Mayo said. "We had some intentional fouls and some technical fouls and just kind of unraveled and lost our poise as a team."
Despite the loss, the Trojans earned themselves a nice split on the road trip to Arizona. USC missed an opportunity to take sole possession of 3rd place in the Pac-10 following Washington State's loss to Stanford. If we finish tied for third with the Cougars, they would win the tie-breaker by virtue of their season sweep over us this season. So all focus should go towards locking up 4th place and securing our NCAA Tournament bid. Paragon said it best over at Conquest Chronicles:
A win over either Cal or Stanford ensures 10 wins in the Pac-10 and a 4th place finish, which would pretty much ensure a birth in the tournament, as no 10-win Pac-10 team has ever missed the tournament.
I want to see a packed house this weekend at Galen Center, starting this Thursday against Cal. This is USC's final homestand, as well as the last two games of the regular season. March is here fellas, let the madness begin...

Fight On! Beat the Bears!