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Previewing USC at Kansas

Saturday marks the much anticipated debut of Kansas freshman Josh Selby.  After a nine game NCAA mandated suspension Selby is clear to take the court in a Jayhawk uniform on Saturday and according to Bill Self that debut will most likely come from the bench and not in a starting role.  That moment should be interesting to take in as the crowd reaction will certainly reflect the anticipation that has been building for the last several months.

The challenger?  That would be the USC Trojans.  A team that just a few years ago seemed to be riding high with Tim Floyd and OJ Mayo, now seems to be in transition.  Head coach Kevin O'Neill is entering his second season and the Trojans currently sit at 6-4. 

A bad loss to Nebraska and what currently looks like a good win over Texas show a bit of the inconsistent nature of the group, but one would have to expect a game in Allen Fieldhouse against the #3 team in the country would serve as some fairly solid motivation. Just ask UCLA.

The Players

To start the Trojans aren't particularly deep.  They truly only play seven players with any sort of consistency.  After that the minutes and even appearances are next to nothing for the remainder o the roster. 

That rotation will receive a boost from a USC debut of their own when junior transfer Jio Fontan becomes eligible for the Trojans.  Fontan started his career at Fordham and after sitting out last year, looks to be a guard that can be a key contributor for the remainder of the season.

Enough about the new players, what about the ones that are already there?  Currently the Trojans are paced by a 6'10" junior in Nikola Vucevic.  Vucevic currently leads the team in both scoring and rebounding while averaging a double double.  His 16.5 PPG and 10.6 RPG average will test the Kansas bigs interior defense and rebounding, an area that has caused concerns at times during the year.

Next on the list of notables is a pair of Joneses but the pair aren't related.  Maurice and Bryce Jones average 12.2 and 11.2 points respectively with Maurice setting the pace in terms of ball distribution(assists) and Bryce setting the tone from beyond the arc.  Both are young, Maurice stands just 5'7" while Bryce is more your guard/wing type at 6'5".  Fontan's addition figures to affect minutes somewhere in the backcourt, with Maurice playing nearly 40 minutes a game as is, it's likely he'll get a few more breathers going forward.

Another big body on the interior is 6'10 senior forward Alex Stephenson.  Stephenson doesn't show the explosive ability that Vucevic does but he's still sitting at better than 8 points and 8 rebounds per game which is within spitting distance of a double-double. 

Rounding out the starters is a 6'6" glue man and another guard/wing in Marcus Simmons.  Statistically nothing jumps off the page, but Simmons is a player for USC because he provides experience and leadership to a team with youth and a team that doesn't have substantial depth.

The only two players that you're likely to see coming of the bench minus Fontan are Donte Smith and Garrett Jackson.  Smith is a senior guard that actually leads the team in threes.  Jackson is a body that you won't see often but he's you can't play your bigs for 40 minutes night in and night out and expect to survive. 


Trending Up

The week of Thanksgiving this was a team that went on the road to Lincoln and lost a close one to Nebraska.  Two days later they were handled easily at TCU.  At that point the team was 4-4 with their most impressive win being New Mexico State.  This was a team headed toward it's second mediocre year under coach O'Neill.

Now that still could be the case, but the Pac10 is a conference that presents plenty of opportunity and things are starting to look up for the Trojans.  A win over 20th ranked Texas is a start and the Trojans didn't just beat the Longhorns they handed it to them. 

Throw in the fact that they get to add in the services of another guard that can score in Jio Fontan and things are starting to look up at SC.  Now Kansas is not small task and the Jayhawks add some help of their own, but things are starting to look up for the Trojans and they have some positive momentum as they head in to Allen Fieldhouse.

Offensive Averages:

189th / 8th
276th / 10th
129th / 4th
FG Pct
115th / 5th

Defensive Averages:

76th / 8th
80th / 10th
40th / 4th
FG Pct
139th / 5th

Prediction Time

Kansas has a couple distractions this week.  One is a good distraction and that's Josh Selby.  The other isn't so good and that's Mario Little.  Throw in a full week off and it seems like a chance to rest up, regroup and get ready to put the pieces together might have turned into something else.

Basically Kansas is looking at two things that are going to disrupt chemistry a bit, but without question the Jayhawks are much deeper and far more talented than the Trojans.  Throw in an environment that should be chomping at the bit to see what Josh Selby can do and Kansas should handle business. 

Still it feels like one that might be a little sluggish to start, maybe a little off at times.  The week could have gone a lot better for Coach Self and Kansas, now it's time to see how the team responds.