Thursday, December 6, 2012

Preview: Minnesota Gophers vs. USC Trojans

So much to write about.  Between the Twins' moves, the Gopher game on Saturday versus USC, and this amazing Middle Eastern lunch I had today there's a lot to talk about it.  I'll save the Twins for the weekend or Monday and go with the Gopher/Trojan preview for now.  When will I talk about the kabobs though, you ask?  WHO CAN SAY?

USC has certainly disappointed this year coming into their game against the Gophers, but despite a 3-5 record the Trojans haven't been as bad as that sounds (despite a coach in Kevin O'Neil once regular reader of this blog believes to be the worst in college basketball).  Their losses are to Illinois (#42 ranked team by Kenpom), Marquette (49), San Diego State (26), Nebraska (179), and New Mexico (35).  None of which on their own is particularly damning (Nebraska is bad, but it was at Lincoln at least) but taken together, when the team's only quality win is against Texas who is starting to look worse and worse, and this season has certainly been a disappointment.  They still aren't a terrible team, just a completely mediocre squad who is currently playing like hell.

Maybe the biggest reason (outside of O'Neil, of course, and having returning leading scorer Maurice Jones flunk off the team) the Trojans are struggling is the play of Jio Fontan.   Fontan lit up the A-10 in his first two seasons at Fordham in 2008-09 and 2009-10, averaging about 15 pts and 4.5 assists in each season before transferring to early in the 09/10 season to USC.   He slotted in to that team well once eligible in 2011, helping play some point and scoring as well on a balanced squad which made it to the NCAA Tournament (the First Four, but still).  Last year was supposed to be his time to shine on an undermanned team, and unfortunately Fontan blew out his knee in a game during the team's Brazil tour, and the year ended in a disastrous 6-26 record and a 1-17 conference slate.  Thanks to couple more transfers and a talented sophomore USC's talent level is better, but they aren't going anywhere in March if Fontan doesn't turn things around.

Fontan was basically a decent outside shooter who used his superior quickness to get to the lane and either convert or get to the free throw line where he was pretty good.  This year, however, he's absolutely been dreadful shooting the basketball, hitting just 27% from the field.  He can still hit his FTs (career high 74%) but is drawing them at an all-time low rate, which to go with his horrible free-throw percentage and career high turnover percentage has him rated as the worst player on the Trojans (from an offensive efficiency standpoint).  I can't claim to be an expert in his play either before or especially after his injury because watching USC would be super gross, but I'm going to go ahead and say his injury is still really affecting him.  Unless something drastically changes, the Trojans are nothing but an also ran this year - not terrible, but no shot at the tournament.

It's not like Jio is all alone on an island of inaccurate chuckery either, because his backcourt mate is former Wake Forest transfer J.T. Terrell, who has taken about 30% more shots this year than Fontan but has hit at only a slightly better rate of 33%.  What that means is you have these two chuckerheads taking nearly 40% of the Trojans field goal attempts so far this year at a combined hit rate of 30%.  Good way to get your team ranked as the 262nd overall best shooting team in the NCAA.  At least Fontan contributes in some way (5.3 assists per game).  Terrell may be completely worthless, he of the 2-to-1 TO/A ratio (yes that's 2-to-1 TOs to Assists).  Not Will Wilson of North Florida worthless (seriously how bad was that guy) because he can at least do something like score 21 against Marquette (which he did).  There's almost no way he can do that against the Gophers because they play really, really good defense, but I suppose you can't completely rule it out.  Except that you can.

As far as the rest of the squad it's a boatload of transfers:  Ari Stewart (WAKE), Aaron Fuller (IOWA), Renaldo Woolridge (TENN), Omar Oraby (RICE), Eric Wise (IRVINE), and James Blasczyk (TAMU) all started their careers elsewhere and all play roles for the Trojans this year in to varying degrees.  Wise is the team's second leading scorer (10.4 ppg) and rebounder (6.4 rpg) and starter at a wing while Oraby plays just 12 minutes per game but puts up 6 and 3 with almost 2 blocks per game thanks to him being 7-2.  Stewart and Fuller are standards while in the rotation while Woolridge and Blasczyk get a little bit of run, but basically the team is put together the way you'd think a team with 800 transfers that isn't a premium transfer destination (think UNLV or Fresno in the past, Iowa State now - which, incidentally, is where the aforementioned Jones has transferred to) would be put together - mish mash of parts that may or may not fit and don't know each other well.

The last guy I'll mention is Dewayne Dedmon who is worth discussing because he's a seven-footer with some size (255 lbs.), but may be the ultimate definition of project.  He made his high school basketball team every year but each time was forbade by his loony tunes Jehovah's Witness mom to actually play.  He ended up at a JuCo before finally signing with USC where he redshirted his first season and is now a 23-year old junior who has played basketball for like four years.  Pretty bizarre stuff.  He averaged 7.6 points and 5.5 rebs per game last year (not bad, really), but hasn't really progressed averaging 7 pts and 8 rebs this year while shooting a lower percentage.  He'll probably be pretty interesting to watch, especially if he goes up against Mbakwe just because it would be an interesting case to see Trevor go up against someone who might be more athletic than him (especially post injury) and just as strong, but ultimately it doesn't really matter because the Trojans aren't very good.

If this was a home game it would be Gophers by 20, easy.  Since it's on the road things are always a little bit dicier, but this year's Gopher squad is different and I'm barely even worried about this.

Gophers 71, USC 64.

Also I'm just kidding.  I'm not only worried I'm terrified.  This kind of thing never works out for Minnesota teams.  Totally panicking.

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