USC vs Oklahoma

by Jonathan Wall | November 29th, 2007

On paper the roster looks like a total mess: five freshman, five sophomores, three juniors and not one single senior. It looks bad. Based on those numbers alone, it’s impossible to think that any team could ever dream of hanging with some of the best teams in the country, let alone even fathom vying for a conference title.

And yet here stand the 22nd-ranked USC Trojans and head coach Tim Floyd, stacked to the gills with freshman and sophomore talents and a legitimate chance to go deep in the NCAA Tournament.

Not a bad position to be in, huh?

USC will look to break in their new Galen Center digs in proper fashion when they take on the Oklahoma Sooners in their first home game since an opening-night shocker that saw the Trojans fall to Mercer, 96-81.

Since the home loss, USC has been on a tear, most recently capping off the Anaheim Classic with a 70-45 drubbing of then 19th-ranked Southern Illinois to move its record to 5-1 overall.

The Trojans’ offense is anchored by one of the best backcourts in the nation in freshman phenom O.J. Mayo (21.8 ppg) and sophomore Daniel Hackett (5.8 asst). The duo has been one of the main reasons the Trojans have been scoring at such a high clip. Hackett leads the team from long range at 66.7 percent , while Mayo sits solidly at 42.2 percent.

The continued hot play from Mayo and Hackett has forced teams to play the Trojans tight in man-to-man coverage or get killed with the three-balls of USC sharpshooters. If anything, the shooting has allowed sophomore forward Taj Gibson the chance to further build upon on his stellar freshman year. Gibson is the workhorse in the post, and he is close to averaging a double-double with 11.7 points and 9.7 rebounds per game.

The word perfect storm comes to mind when thinking about the Trojans. They have a loaded roster with some of the best talent in the nation, and right now the only thing keeping them from being a favorite to reach the Final Four is that they might have “too much” talent.

In their most recent game against Southern Illinois, Floyd ended up sitting out forward Taj Gibson to give other players a chance to play. “O.J. and Taj have gotten a tremendous amount of attention,” Floyd told the Associated Press. “We have a lot of guys who can play. It’s a big deal to players and media who starts. It’s all part of team and these guys get it.”

While the team might “get it” early on, it still remains to be seen if Floyd can pacify his roster for an entire season.

The Oklahoma Sooners (5-1), meanwhile, are still trying to pick up where former head coach Kelvin Sampson left before he bolted for Indiana University.

Unlike USC, which has star power on its roster, Oklahoma continues to win games with suffocating defense, making the Sooners almost the exact opposite of the high-scoring Trojans. Currently the Sooners are limiting foes to only 54.0 ppg and a mere 34.6 percent shooting from the floor. While most people might find their style of play rather boring, they always manage to find themselves in the hunt come Selection Sunday because of it.

Freshman forward Blake Griffin has done it all for Oklahoma thus far and he leads the team in scoring (15.0 ppg), rebounding (9.2 rpg), and steals (10). Longar Longar–one of only two seniors on the Oklahoma roster–ranks second to Griffin with 12.0 ppg and 7.2 rpg.

With the exception of a 10-point loss to 3rd-ranked Memphis earlier in the season, the one knock on the Sooners is the fact that they have yet to face a staunch test against a ranked road opponent. Tonight they’ll get that test in USC.

The Matchup

This is about as good as it gets in the new Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Classic. These teams have very differing styles of play, so it should be interesting to see who comes out on top and how.

If Oklahoma can slow the game down to a crawl and force USC to set up its offense, the Sooners might have a shot at pulling off an upset in the Galen Center. However, if Mayo and co. find their rhythm like they have lately, this one could get ugly.

The greatest thing about this game is that it gives the NCAA Tournament committee a great shot at seeing how Oklahoma handles a tough road environment early in the season, as well as how the young Trojans play after coming off an emotional tournament victory.

In the end, the Trojans just have too much speed and potential not to win this game running away. While the Sooners might have the defensive prowess, they were exposed by the speed of Memphis earlier in the year. That, coupled with what should be a strong game from O.J. Mayo, makes USC a strong favorite to grab a win for the Pac-10 in the Hardwood Series.

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