Since We Last Spoke: USC

USC Trojans face Stanford Sunday.

Kevin Danna brings his updated insights and observations heading into Sunday afternoon's away contest versus the USC Trojans at the Galen Center.

January 22, 2005; 78-70.

That is the date and score of Stanford's last road victory in Southern California. While there will be no Chris Hernandez, Dan Grunfeld, or Matt Haraysz on the floor on Sunday, February 12, 2012, is arguably Stanford's best chance at a roadie since the 13-game losing streak began when they take on the USC Trojans.

This is mainly because the team from Troy is a mere shell of the team they expected to be coming into this season, and maybe even a fraction of the team they thought they would be heading into Pac-12 play.

Things were already looking bleak when Jio Fontan went down in September with a season-ending ACL injury, sophomore forward Curtis Washington needing surgery in August, and sophomore forward Evan Smith shut down with a shoulder injury after the loss to Kansas.

Things began to look even more apocalyptic when Aaron Fuller, the team's second-leading scorer at the time, went down for the remainder of the season with a torn labrum in his left shoulder (suffered during a scrimmage in the preseason, which is his shooting shoulder) and a slight tear in his right shoulder during the trip up North against the Bay schools. Add in DeWayne Dedmon's torn MCL that he suffered against Colorado and this team has been completely screwed.

They have managed to win one conference game, that being the one immediately after Dedmon's season-ending MCL tear, a 62-45 shellacking of the Utah Runnin' Utes.

The Trojans won that game mainly because of the two key guys who are still healthy- Maurice Jones and Garrett Jackson, both of whom scored 16 points in the victory.

Jones has been the Ultimate Warrior this year, averaging 38 minutes per game. He is basically to USC what Landry Fields was to Stanford during the 2009-10 season, except that he is 12 inches shorter. It's a mini-miracle that he is able to average 14 points per game when he is the only guy on the team who can create his own shot. And even then, at 5'7'', most of the shots he creates for himself are either long step-back jumpers or drives to the hoop where he has to finish over multiple guys who are a foot taller than him. He puts the "volume" into "volume shooter," taking 122 more shots than the next highest total of any individual on the team. Jones isn't playing selfish basketball; he is simply doing what he has to. If he doesn't take those 14 shots per game on average, his team really has no chance of winning.

Garrett Jackson, on the other hand, only averages six points per game on the season, but is giving his team 11 per game ever since he was inserted into the starting lineup seven games ago. You take a look at his shooting form and you wouldn't think he'd be much of a scorer, but he is able to hit the mid-range jumper consistently enough and is pretty accurate when given an open 18-footer from the baseline. Overall, he's a pretty solid player and won't make mistakes when he is out there.

That last phrase can be said about the Trojans overall, too. As bad as they are, they are 23rd in the nation in fewest turnovers per game at 11.3 and lead the Pac-12 in turnover margin (+4.3). A lot of that can be attributed to Kevin O'Neill's take-the-air-out-of-the-ball style, but at the very least, they are able to get off a shot attempt.

That's where the problems arise. It's tough to win games when you don't have shooters, and that's the dilemma that USC faces this year. With Nikola Vucevic and Donte Smith no longer on campus and Jio Fontan out for the season, the Trojans were left with nobody who could really knock down a perimeter jumper at an efficient enough level. The closest thing to a shooter on USC right now is Greg Allen, who makes one-third of his three point attempts, but his 33 percent leads the team.

Unfortunately, the Trojans have had to rely on the three because James Blasczyk is the only healthy player above 6'7''.  They had a two-game stretch where they hit a combined 16 for 42 from downtown against Utah and Washington State, but have been a combined 4-33 in their two losses to Washington and Cal since.

The Cal game wasn't on TV, but I had a chance to watch them play the Huskies. It looked like the consummate 1-16 March match-up, with USC trying to hold on to respectability for dear life. And they hung in there for quite a while; Jackson and Jones stole a couple of inbounds passes that led to easy layups, Byron Wesley took it hard to the rack relentlessly, and it was a single-digit game in the second half. But then Washington put the hammer down, finishing the game off with a 31-13 advantage over the final 13 minutes. USC just didn't have enough capable bodies to keep pace for 40 minutes.

And Kevin O'Neill knows that fact better than anyone. He has been perhaps the calmest I have ever seen him this year. He hasn't really gone ballistic on his team yet, and he really doesn't have a reason to. His guys play hard and play smart. They played Cal very close (this was with Fuller and Dedmon, however), they only lost at Oregon by three (with Dedmon) and at Washington State by a touchdown (no Dedmon), but they are just way too undermanned right now to really put a scare into any team not named Utah.

And hopefully that laundry list of teams includes Stanford. The last time Stanford played a team that had this poor of a record on the road this late in the season was Oregon back in 2009, and we all know what happened there. The difference between that game and the one on Sunday is that the Ducks at least legitimately had multiple dudes that could be problems - Tajuan Porter, Michael Dunigan, Joevan Catron, and LeKendric Longmire to name a few. At the very least, Oregon could score. Plus, the Pac-10 was much tougher back then, and any conference win was a good win.

The same can't be said for the Trojans, but Stanford is in the midst of a big slump and hasn't won down South in seven years. And for as limited as the Trojans are, they play very solid team defense and don't make mistakes on offense. They have the capability of making it tough on Stanford. Regardless, I'm about as confident as one can be going into a game having lost five of six and six in a row to the opponent on the road.

A win on Sunday and the Cardinal pull back into a tie for sixth with UCLA.

A loss… and I might have to seek counseling.
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