After slow starts to the season, the best teams in the Pac-12 have moved up to the top of the standings and that’s USC and Arizona. The Wildcats are in first place, but have three straight road Games following this one so anything can happen, especially if the Trojans steal a win in Tucson.
The problem is that USC still isn’t living up to its preseason hype and even with a solid Conference record nothing has come easy. The Trojans have Four road wins this season, although none of them have come against a team at the level of Arizona. To go with that, the Wildcats still haven’t lost at home even though they’ve scraped by numerous times.
ACCording to the numbers, USC should be right in this Game. The Trojans rank much better defensively and are only slightly behind in terms of offensive efficiency. That said, their defense still has some issues and has one of the worst two-point field goal defenses in the Conference allowing 51.8% inside the arc. That’s a major problem because DeAndre Ayton is a monster on the block and often un-guardable due to his versatility. When USC is on offense, the best thing it can do to win this Game is not turn the ball over and make shots from deep, which is the weakness of Arizona. The problem is that the Trojans aren’t great or consistent from the perimeter.
The biggest matchup in this Game is Ayton against whoever tries to guard him. Ayton will probably see all three of Chimezie Metu, Bennie Boatwright and Nick Rakocevic, but none of them are close to the same size as Ayton. The freshman averages 19.7 points and 10.8 boards per Game. The Trojans have taller guys down low, but none of them are true big men that will be able to handle Ayton by themselves. It also doesn’t help much that Arizona has another 7-footer in Dusan Ristic to work with.
To win this Game on the road, the Trojans will need better play from their backcOurt between Jordan McLAughlin, Jonah Mathews and Elijah Stewart. That’s easier said than done as Arizona also has a more talented backcOurt led by Allonzo Trier, Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Rawle Alkins. Jackson-Cartwright is a defensive specialist and will be tasked with limiting with McLAughlin can do while Mathews and Stewart have to figure out a way to stop Trier and Alkins.
The best hope for USC is for Arizona to struggle from deep, which is more than possible. Trier will get his buckets, but Alkins, who has dealt with injury almost all season, is extremely inconsistent as seen in his Four points in 30 minutes against Washington. The best bet for USC may be to go full zone because that’s what got Washington the win over the weekend.
Of course, that was on the road and playing at home is much different for Arizona. The Trojans have plenty of playmakers and a balanced squad, but stopping Ayton and Rustic is going to be a problem. Even if they win the backcOurt battle, it probably won’t be enough. The Wildcats swept this matchup last year and while the teams are slightly different, the combo of Ayton and Trier simply can’t be matched. Trier scored 25 points in the one Game he played in last year and that could easily happen against a team that doesn’t have great defensive shooting percentages.
Our Pick – USC +5.5