Pac-12 Tournament Preview: Oregon State

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March 8, 2018 by Sam Dodge

Shaqquan Aaron

USC Trojans guard Shaqquan Aaron (0) shoots the ball during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game on Sunday, Jan. 25, 2017, in Los Angeles. (Michael Yanow)

LAS VEGAS, NEV. – No matter what, USC needs tonight.

A loss to Oregon or Utah? Probably bad, but those are two bubble teams that the Trojans swept in conference.

Lose to Oregon State. That’s plain deadly.

A quick check-in on Bracketology:

Jerry Palm has USC as the literal last team in, trailing behind Louisville, Oklahoma and Syracuse. All of those teams are awaiting their fate, already losing in their conference tournaments. Things are lining up to not just make the tournament, but to get out of the play-in games.

Joe Lunardi echoes this sentiment, pushing the Trojans all the way up to a 10-seed in Detroit. Bracket Matrix, which aggregates dozens of predictions, projects an 11-seed.

One more thing: Watch Colorado’s RPI this weekend. They are just north of the No. 75 spot needed for a Quadrant One road win thanks to topping Arizona State. An extra bullet for the USC resume wouldn’t hurt.

All of this bracket talk is moot without a win over the Beavers in Sin City. While USC took both meetings in Pac-12 play, the Beavers stayed close in both.

In fact, USC’s season was on the brink Jan. 20 in Corvallis. Behind Tres Tinkle, son of head coach Wayne, and his 21 points, the Trojans stared down an eight-point deficit with 13:20 left. Jordan Usher caught fire with four threes after that, and Jordan McLaughlin’s free throws saved the day.

A month later, they needed a 90 percent shooting night and 28 points from Elijah Stewart to hold them off in Galen Center. Late-game free throws turned a tight game into a 13-point triumph.

Basically, USC absolutely can’t take the Wayne Tinkle’s third-worst team for granted.

Chimezie Metu and Nick Rakocevic’s defense on the younger Tinkle will be key. I wrote earlier this year about the defensive struggles with opposing big men, and Tinkle has found traction in the two contests. He needed 16 shots to get to his 21 points in the first game, but he was more efficient in the second, scoring 16 on 11 shot equivalents.

Both 6-foot-11 forwards have showed up the last two weeks, holding Utah’s David Collette and UCLA’s Thomas Welsh in check. Welsh, in particular, notched a very quiet seven points, and without Aaron Holliday’s bombastic performance, we’d all be talking about the resurgent USC defense.

Unfortunately, the backcourt was last seen not only ceding 34 points to Holliday, but 22 more to the Bruin’s Kris Wilkes. After a few months of bolstering the defense behind the conference’s No. 1 turnover defense, McLaughlin, Shaqquan Aaron and Elijah Stewart faltered in the biggest game of the year.

On the bright side, No. 3 in the blue and gold won’t be on the court tonight. The Beavers Thompson present an easier challenge.

Stephen Thompson, Jr. averages just under 16 points a game, but he’s only an average shooter. He connects on 46 percent of his shots with a respectable 35 percent from three. He’s a wiry 6-foot-4 and should once again struggle with the Trojans backcourt length.

He scored seven points in Los Angeles and needed 15 shots to get 16 points in game one.

He did do this.

Ethan Thompson, a freshman from defending California state champion Bishop Montgomery of Torrance, chips in just over 10 a contest. He has erupted a few times in recent weeks, however. While 23 points against bottom-dweller Washington State is nothing to sneeze at, his 20 points against No. 1 seed Arizona was vital in forcing overtime on Feb. 22.

Overall, while Oregon State fields the No. 8 defense in the Pac-12, they can hang with the best.

USC can put this team away with turnovers, as they did before. The Beavers combined for 26 turnovers in the two games, and when USC is at their worst, they aren’t getting those extra possessions on giveaways. Arizona and UCLA torched the defense by protecting the rock.

Time is running out for USC to make the tournament. While they currently have an RPI of 35, there’s a precedent for missing the tournament with this number. Dayton missed in 2008 with an RPI of 32, Texas Tech missed in 1997 at 29 and Missouri State was No. 21 in 2006.

Andy Enfield laid out the case after the UCLA game.

If they lose to Oregon State, they don’t deserve it.

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