Happy New Year, everyone! Now that the holiday season is officially over, college basketball really starts to ramp up the action as just about all leagues kick off league play to start the New Year. Today, the PAC-12 gets its conference play started as ten teams are in action playing their first league games of the year. For our daily pick, we will head to Pullman, Washington, where the Washington State Cougars host the USC Trojans.
- USC Trojans (11-2) at Washington State Cougars (9-4)
- Friel Court, Pullman
- 7:30 PM PST
- TV: PACN
The Washington State Cougars are hoping their nice start in the non-conference converts to wins in league play, as they host the USC Trojans tonight in their league play home opener. After a slow start to the season that saw the Cougars lose four out of their first seven games, Washington State has managed to reel off six straight W’s to finish non-conference play on a high note.
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— WSU Men's Basketball (@WSUCougarMBB) January 2, 2020
For USC, the Trojans look like a team that just might compete for the league title as they have a stellar record at 11-2 and have top-100 wins over the likes of LSU, Harvard, TCU, and Nevada. The PAC-12 came into the season looking like a wide-open league, but with the emergence of Oregon, Arizona, and Colorado as national title threats, the league looks like it could send as many as eight teams dancing this March, and is much more talented top to bottom than many expected.
I really like this USC Trojans team. They are big and physical and have one of my favorite players in the country in freshman Onyeka Okongwu. The Trojans have a balanced attack as both their offense and defense currently rank in the top seventy-five on kenpom in terms of efficiency.
Okongwu was one of the top high school players in the country as a recruit and has more than lived up to the hype so far at USC. He leads the team in scoring (17.7), rebounds (9.0), and blocks (3.2). At 6’9” 245 pounds, he has a body and playing style that remind many people of Zion Williamson of Duke
USC has won five straight games, with quality wins over Harvard, TCU, and LSU in that stretch. This team shoots a high percentage both in the paint and from three, and if they can start hitting some of their free throws, they make just 66% as a team, they will have a very hard to stop offensive attack. The Trojans are my sleeper team this year in the PAC-12, and I think they will emerge as one of the better teams in the conference before all is said and done this year.
Washington State Cougars
When you glance at the Cougars 9-4 record, it might lead you to think this team isn’t all that bad. But when you look at their SOS, they have had quite literally the softest schedule in the nation. The Cougs SOS is a dismal 349th in the country!
Elleby has exploded onto the scene this year as one of the best scorers in the PAC-12. He leads the Cougs in points (20.1) and rebounds (6.7). He has scored twenty points or more seven times in his last ten games.
The recent six-game winning streak featured four wins over teams ranked worse than 300th, and another over UC Riverside, who is currently ranked #246. The only win of remote substance on the year for WSU is over New Mexico State, and the Aggies are just 9-6 on the year, so take that one for what it is worth.
Who Do I Like?
This is a physical mismatch. The Trojans have multiple NBA level guys with big bodies, and they dominate the paint on both sides of the ball. I will be very surprised if Washington State can hang with this fast pace Trojans team that love to get highlight-reel dunks in transition off of the fast break.
The only way I see the Cougars being able to protect their home floor is if they get hot from the three-point line. As a team, they are one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the nation, shooting just 29%. And while Elleby likes to jack up lots of deep shots, he shoots over six a game, he just doesn’t make all that many as he is making just 29.3% on the year. This should lead to a lot of run-outs and easy transition buckets for USC.
I hate laying wood on the road in league play, but when I look at this Washington State team, I just don’t think they have the bodies to compete tonight. And in a spot where you won’t be able to psychically bang with another team, the only real way to survive is by shooting your way through it, and they just don’t have the shooters to do that.
I think Okongwu and his running mate, big man Nick Rakocevic, both dominate in the post and have big nights. This is by far the best team that Washington State has played so far this season, and I think they get exposed. So, I will lay a little wood on the road, and back the Trojans, laying -3 points!