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USC Preview

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Jayhawks are Vegas underdogs for Monday’s matchup with USC.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Basketball-Drake at Southern California Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

USC, a 6-seed, is now up to #8 in KenPom. If you’d like some optimism, however, it is worth noting the Trojans are just 5-5 against KenPom top-50 opponents.

There are, of course, plenty of reasons for pessimism. USC is the 2nd-tallest team in the country, and 2nd nationally in 2-point defense. They also have one of the best players in the entire country, and one who will provide some specific challenges for the Jayhawks.

We’ll start with that last one. Freshman Evan Mobley is 7-0 tall and likely will go 2nd in the upcoming NBA draft. There isn’t much he can’t do. He’s shooting 61 percent from two, ranked 5th in the Pac 12 in defensive rebounding, is a top 30ish shot blocker nationally, and gets to the free throw line a ton, where he shoots around 70 percent. He can also do things like this:

After what Tanner Groves did to an undersized KU frontline, Mobley must be licking his chops. Self will have to cook up some adjustments in order for Kansas to have a chance at limiting Mobley and USC Monday night.

It’s not fair to call USC a one man team, but it is fair to say they need a big game from Mobley to win. The Trojans’ offensive profile is one the Jayhawks will likely be pretty happy with. They don’t take many threes and they rely a lot on their offensive rebounding to score. USC led the Pac 12 in offensive rebounding, but barely shoots any threes (just 31 percent of its field goal attempts) and overall ranked just 5th in the Pac 12 offensively. Even though they don’t take many threes, they also don’t get to the rim a ton, taking just 31.8 percent of their shots at the rim.

The Trojans have some good 3-point shooters, but only one who has made more than 50 threes this season (6-2 point guard Tahj Eddy, who is shooting 38 percent). It’s just not a big part of their offense, and they’re more content with taking mid range jumpers and floaters and letting their size go to work on the offensive glass, so you can imagine that offensive rebounding will have a big role to play on Monday night.

The Jayhawks have played 9 games against teams who rebound 31.8 percent of their misses or higher (which is roughly what it took to be in the top 60 nationally). In those games, they held their opponents to around 2.5 percentage points worse than their season average, although it is worth pointing out the win over Baylor was the only game in which Kansas did it to a top-20 national offensive rebounding team. Still, if the ‘Hawks can keep USC off the offensive boards, say, to the tune of 2.5 percentage points worse than their season total, that will go a long way towards them winning.

Defensively, USC’s size poses the biggest issue. Kansas won’t have a parade to the rim like it had against Eastern Washington, and frankly will need an aberrant 3-point shooting day to post the type of offensive numbers needed in this one. The Trojans led the Pac 12 in total defense and 2-point defense, and also rank 2nd nationally in 2-point defense, allowing teams to shoot just 41.7 percent inside the arc. Their field goal percentage allowed at the rim is also 8th best in the country according to Hoop-Math, at just under 51 percent.

USC has switched up between zone and man-to-man this season, although I suspect they’ll mostly go man-to-man against the Jayhawks. When they do play man-to-man, they don’t switch often if at all, and they play a lot of drop coverage which leads to a lot of in-between shots. It could, however, lead to some good looks for Marcus Garrett, who excels in that area.

Some more good news: USC is 267th nationally at forcing turnovers. It’s not all good of course, as it means they usually funnel teams into their trees inside, but Kansas will be able to get shots up. I also think USC’s low amount of 3-point attempts allowed is somewhat of a mirage, as the Pac 12 as a whole was 26th out of 32 conferences in attempts, but the Jayhawks should have open threes if they want them.

USC is going to need a big game from Mobley, whereas the Jayhawks probably just need one guy to have a good day from three and to keep the Trojans off the offensive glass. It seems certain, however, that Mobley will have a big game, especially if McCormack and Wilson are still feeling the effects from Covid. It’s a bad matchup for the Jayhawks, maybe even a worse matchup than a potential Sweet 16 date with Iowa would be, but Kansas should be in it if they avoid a bad start like they had Saturday and take care of the rest of the keys outlined above.