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Pac-12 Quarterfinal: #8 USC vs. #1 Washington Open Thread

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The Huskies have a lot on the line in the first of hopefully 3 games in Vegas this week

NCAA Basketball: Southern California at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Essentials

Date: Thursday, 3/14/19

Tip-Off Time: 12:00 pm PT

TV: Pac-12 Network

Streaming: Pac-12.com/live

Radio: KOMO 1000 AM/97.7 FM and TuneIn

Location: Las Vegas, Nevada

Betting Line: Washington -4

USC 2018-19 Statistics

Record: 16-16 (8-10)

Points For per Game: 76.3 (72nd)

Points Against per Game: 73.1 (207th)

Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 108.6 (93rd)

Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 101.6 (122nd)

Strength of Schedule: +3.27 (85th)

USC Key Players

C-Nick Rakocevic, Jr. 6’11, 225: 14.9 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 1.4 bpg, 55.5% FG, 67.8% FT

USC’s bruising center only made honorable mention all Pac-12 despite nearly averaging a double double. He’s at his best facing the basket where he can either cut or drive towards the rim. Nick had the 4th best offensive rebounding rate in the conference after leading the Pac-12 last year so he could crush UW on the boards if they aren’t effective boxing out. He’s capable of hitting the mid-range shot if left open but Washington should encourage that if it happens. He was USC’s most efficient player against UW the first time around with 16 points and 10 rebounds.

F- Bennie Boatwright, Sr. 6’10, 235: 18.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 2.3 apg, 47.9% FG, 43.4% 3pt, 69.7% FT

Boatwright ended up 1st-team all-conference in his senior season and is one of the best shooters in the conference at 6’10. He finished 2nd in Pac-12 play in 3-pt% by nailing 46.1% of shots behind the arc. Bennie made just 2/7 from deep the first time around against UW but has killed the Huskies in prior years. There’s nowhere on the court he can’t score from and Washington’s best way to neutralize him is to punish him if he gets complacent which he can tend to as he isn’t a very physical player. He ended up with 22 points against the Dawgs in Seattle but it took him 19 shots to get there which Washington can live with.

G- Shaqquan Aaron, So. 6’7, 195: 8.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.4 apg, 43.8% FG, 37% 3pt, 63.2% FT

Aaron’s shooting has greatly improved this year as his career high 3pt percentage before this was 33.6% but he was actually under 33% in conference play. His best offensive role though is as a slasher using his athleticism to cut to the basket and finish at the rim. He shot 30% on midrange jumpers this season so Washington should play the drive every time he dribbles into the lane. Aaron really struggled in the first matchup with just 4 points and 1 rebound in almost 30 minutes played.

G- Jonah Mathews, Jr. 6’3, 200: 12.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.2 apg, 43.1% FG, 39.5% 3pt, 68.3% FT

Mathews might be USC’s most important player as he leads the team in minutes and 3-pt shooting and is also their best perimeter defender. He’s doubled his assist rate this year while keeping his turnovers basically constant and is much less of a catch and shoot specialist. Expect to see him tracking Jaylen Nowell all night. He really struggled with his ball-handling though in the first matchup and finished with 10 points on 11 shots but with 5 turnovers.

G- Elijah Weaver, Fr. 6’5, 210: 5.2 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 2.5 apg, 42.7% FG, 35.1% 3pt, 76.2% FT

Weaver is a true freshman who was recently inserted into the starting lineup over Derryck Thornton and while the Trojans are just 1-3 in those games, it was probably the right choice. Thornton is the better passer but he is a terrible scorer and Weaver provides better floor spacing and better defense. Weaver finished with 2 points, 4 assists, and 3 turnovers against UW the first time in 18 minutes. He’s scored at least 6 points in every game since the move after only hitting that mark once in conference play previously.

USC Shot Chart

Synergy Sports

The Outlook

It’s finally upon us. The Pac-12 tournament. Washington fans are right to be nervous despite coming in as the #1 seed. That advantage doesn’t mean very much in this year’s version of the Pac-12 where there’s very little difference between the #4 seed and the #10 seed and the Huskies are possibly the weakest 1st place team since the dreaded 2012 Washington team.

Let’s get this out of the way. Washington has not been playing very well on offense lately. The Huskies are 5-3 over their past 8 games and essentially everyone except Noah Dickerson has been substantially worse on offense during that stretch than during the 10-0 start to Pac-12 play. Washington finally cratered on Saturday on senior night with an abysmal offensive showing against Oregon in which they shot just 33.3% from the field and 15% from 3-pt range.

The good news is that defense is not USC’s strong suit. They finished 7th in the Pac-12 in defensive efficiency, substantially behind Oregon and Stanford who gave UW problems in the last 2 weeks. They rank close to 100th nationally in most defensive categories so they don’t have very many obvious weaknesses or strengths. Their biggest problem has been defensive rebounding which means there’s potential for Noah Dickerson to have a huge game. He did in the first meeting with 21 points and 14 rebounds and more of the same seems very doable. USC is the 7th tallest team in the country (just above Oregon) but they aren’t nearly as long or physical which means it shouldn’t give UW as many problems as the Ducks did on Saturday.

Where the Trojans generally make their mark is on offense. Bennie Boatwright is one of the best scorers in the conference and can shoot the lights out when he’s on (and he’s usually on). Nick Rakocevic is a tremendous rebounder and can expect 4+ putbacks killing the Huskies on the offensive glass. Jonah Mathews, Shaq Aaron, and Kevin Porter Jr. have all shot better than 37% from 3-pt range on the year. If the Trojans get hot from outside then they can absolutely put on points in a hurry.

The fortunate thing for Washington is that USC doesn’t always make smart decisions. They are extremely efficient when shooting it from beyond the 3-pt line or at the rim but like most teams really struggle shooting midrange 2’s. The Washington defense is built to encourage that result and USC is one of the teams that willingly takes the bait. USC was 2/11 on midrange shots in the first meeting while finishing 32% on 3-pointers and 56% at the rim. If USC takes double digits midrange jumpers then the Huskies will feel comfortable with the way the game is going. If USC instead is able to find open spaces at the rim or behind the arc then the Huskies are in trouble.

You’re forgiven for not having a tremendous amount of confidence in Washington going into this one. The Dawgs have simply not been the same team that they were during the stretch in which they beat USC the first time around. But it’s not as if USC has exactly been lighting the world on fire either. They ended the regular season on a 4-game losing streak and had lost 7 of 9 with one of the wins coming over Cal pre-turnaround before knocking off an Arizona team that limped across the finish line on Wednesday. Until we see another truly dominant performance from the Huskies then I think a game like this has to be viewed as a toss-up. Hopefully, UW can restore their competitive fire but it’s going to be tough against a talented USC squad.

Prediction

Washington Huskies- 72, USC Trojans- 68

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