January 17, 2018 by Sam Dodge
Payton Pritchard, 3, driving against Colorado in a 77-62 win on New Year’s Eve. (Bob Rickert/FishDuck.com)
Guess which team is which.
Team A has a 13-6 record with four wins over teams in the top-100 per RPI. In late December, they absorbed a double-digit loss to a bad Ivy League team.
Team B boasts a 12-6 mark with three wins over the top-100. In early January, one of the worst power conference teams smacked them by 12.
They both dropped neutral site games to Naismith front-runner Trae Young and Oklahoma. Point being, these teams are functionally equal.
Team A is your University of Southern California Trojans, and they visit Team B – the Oregon Ducks – Thursday night in Eugene. These are not the Final Four Ducks from last year.
No more Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey, Chris Boucher, Dylan Ennis or Jordan Bell. They all lace up in the NBA, the developmental G-League or abroad. The only returning player with any usage is sophomore guard Payton Pritchard.
He runs the point at 6-foot-2, but his offensive profile suggests he settles for jumpers. He makes 41 percent of his threes and leads with 15 points a game. He averages just under five assists, but also coughs up the ball every five times he touches it.
While not outright terrible, Pritchard and the Ducks occasionally give the ball away in droves. In their Jan. 13 loss to Arizona, they lost it 15 times, and 17 more in a 77-62 win over Colorado on New Year’s Eve.
Pritchard needs a stingy evening on that end against a thieving outfit in USC. As mentioned in this week’s column, the Trojans have forced 89 turnovers since the Washington game and lead the conference in steals.
(Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
Head Coach Dana Altman desperately surrounded Pritchard with transfers and freshman – filling the gaps left by the plethora of last year’s departures.
The most successful of those is former New Mexico Lobo Elijah Brown. He’s actually a two-time transfer, starting his college career at Butler in 2013. He functions as a less effective version of Pritchard as he defers drives for jumpers, but he still connects on 37 percent of tries behind the arc.
He chips in 13.9 points a contest, but came off a successful weekend in the desert. He notched 25 points on six threes at No. 17 Arizona, and tallied 18 points in the 76-72 win over No. 11 Arizona State.
Freshman wing Troy Brown manufactures his 11 points a game at the charity stripe. Despite only 44 percent shooting from the field, he cans 81 percent of his free throws. He draws fouls with reckless drives, which is why he also loses the ball as much as Pritchard.
He happens the Duck’s best rebounder with over seven on average, as well.
Illinois State transfer MiKyle McIntosh bolsters the frontcourt. He’s a pure, muscular athlete that sveltely holds his 240 pounds on a 6-foot-7 frame. His production has dipped since leaving the Redbirds, falling from 12.5 points last year to just nine this season.
Much like the rest of the starters, he tries to bully his way into the key, which sometimes works due to sheer strength. He ripped his way to 20 points against Arizona on close-proximity attempts.
Former Georgetown Hoya Paul White swaps center duties with freshman Kenny Wooten. Both standing 6-foot-9 and weigh 225 pounds, they interchange based on situation. White is more an offensive spark-plug, scoring 10 points off the bench on 36 percent three-point shooting.
Wooten is the main shot-blocker, swatting three a game.
Before the upset over Arizona State – by the way, the Sun Devils are five points removed from a winless start in the conference – Oregon proved little. Their best win was over RPI’s No. 90 Ball State, and while the Fightin’ Lettermans (Ball State, ’69) beat Notre Dame, it’s hardly an inspiring notch in the belt.
They’re not great shooters at only No. 9 in the conference, and really depend on attacking the basket. Washington showed that this strategy can open things up against a USC defense, but the Ducks won’t throw a Noah Dickerson or Reid Travis out there.
Without an inside bruiser, the onus turns to USC’s improved perimeter defense. Long-armed guards and wings like Elijah Stewart, Shaqquan Aaron and Jordan Usher should challenge each assault to the rim.
Altman’s defense went in an opposite direction than Enfield’s. Whereas USC rebounded from their injury-induced floundering, Oregon held together fine until a 76-64 decision at Oregon State. They now rank No. 9 defensively in the conference, and cede nearly 40 percent from three.
40 percent from three? Hello, all five Trojan starters.
KenPom sees this as a virtual tossup game, leaning towards a 78-76 Oregon victory. USC holds a 44 percent chance to win, but one can’t help but see the inherent advantages the USC roster has over the mercenary one you see in Eugene.
If the Trojans win the coin flip, Andy Enfield might be smiling all the way until March.
Tip-off is at 6:00 p.m. PST on ESPN2.