March 11, 2014 by Jacob Freedman
By Jacob Freedman
On Wednesday afternoon at 2:30 PM, USC will face the No. 5 seed Colorado Buffaloes in the opening round of the 2014 Pac-12 Tournament. The Trojans are the 12 seed thanks to a 73-55 win by Washington State over UCLA last Saturday to push the Cougars out of the cellar, and the Trojans’ 2-16 conference mark is their worst since…two years ago, when they went 1-17 in Pac-12 play.
The Trojans are 8.5-point underdogs against the Buffaloes, not a shock considering Colorado is a likely tournament team and swept the Trojans this season. The first victory came in Boulder, where the Buffs hammered the Trojans out of the gate in their first game since losing star guard Spencer Dinwiddie to injury, taking a 20-2 lead en route to an 83-62 win. Against Buffs guard Askia Booker, Byron Wesley had one of his worst games of the season, going 3-of-14 from the field with 9 points, one of his 4 games this season in single-digit scoring.
In the second matchup at Galen, the Trojans were their typical selves, sticking with Colorado with 25 minutes before faltering in the second half. After burning USC for 20 points in the first game, Buffaloes forward Josh Scott had 17 while fellow forward Xavier Johnson had 20. Wesley had 21 points, but no other Trojan was in double digits as Omar Oraby fouled out going against more athletic big men.
The Buffaloes are 3-6 on the road in Pac-12 play (2-6 if you don’t count defeating Washington State in Spokane), with a win at Stanford last week being their only impressive victory outside of Boulder. in all but one of those losses, the Buffaloes were leading or less than five points behind through the first half, then faltered from the 15:00 to 5:00 mark in the second half.
The Buffaloes are 10th in the Pac-12 in points per game and tied with USC for 11th in field goal percentage. They’re one of the best rebounding teams, but so is USC, statistically (2nd and 3rd, respectively). That said, USC’s best chance to win this game is by doing what the Trojans do best, engaging in a fast-paced shootout and hoping their opponent does not knock down shots. I say “hoping” because USC isn’t very fend of defending the perimeter, which is fortunate for them since Colorado is 11th in the Pac-12 in three-point shooting, and that’s including Dinwiddie, who had over a quarter of the team’s treys.
This game would be an ideal time for “Good Pe’Shon” to show up, as Howard is seemingly the only Trojan viable from beyond the arc, having attempted at least two threes in every Pac-12 game. He missed USC’s home game against the Buffaloes due to suspension, and having to guard Xavier Talton or Askia Booker is a much better task than Dinwiddie would have been.
We shouldn’t expect Omar Oraby to contain Scott and the other Buffaloes forwards, but D.J. Haley has been playing arguably the best defense on the team down the stretch, and I expect him to play more minutes than Oraby for the fourth game in a row.
Overall, Andy Enfield needs to coax his players to force the Buffaloes out of the paint and into shots on the perimeter. Wesley and Howard need to hit shots, while J.T. Terrell and Julian Jacobs need to limit the silly turnovers they’ve been prone to this conference season. The Buffaloes having a losing record without Dinwiddie, 7-8, but none of those losses have been especially surprising. They are more than likely still going to make the NCAA Tournament, although a USC win would certainly make the selection committee’s decision more difficult.