On a three-game losing streak and with its NCAA Tournament hopes slipping by the day, Stanford men’s basketball (14-11, 10-9 Pac-12) is set to play its final matchup of the regular season on the road against USC (19-6, 13-5 Pac-12) on Wednesday.
It has been a turbulent and unfortunate two weeks for the Cardinal. After losing in triple overtime to a short-handed Washington State team, Stanford returned home, hoping to reverse its misfortune. The Cardinal, however, had little luck upon return, falling to both Oregon and Oregon State as star senior forward Oscar da Silva sat on the sideline due to injury.
It does not get easier from here. Wednesday’s opponent is as talented as any team in the Pac-12, with wins over BYU, UCLA, Oregon and Arizona, and a projected five seed in the NCAA Tournament. Freshman forward Evan Mobley is the definitive star of this USC team, averaging 16.4 points and 8.5 rebounds per contest. He is joined by his brother, sophomore forward Isaiah Mobley, whose 9.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per contest round out the best frontcourt in the Pac-12.
USC’s main weakness is its backcourt. Junior guard Drew Peterson lost his spot in the starting lineup after a long cold streak, but he was hot off the bench in Saturday’s loss to Utah, scoring 19 points in 33 minutes. Due to Peterson’s woes, sophomore guard Ethan Anderson has spent the past three games in the starting lineup, but he has not scored more than seven points in any of those games.
The bright spot for USC’s backcourt has been graduate guard Tahj Eaddy. After a very successful undergraduate career at Santa Clara, Eaddy has transitioned nicely to the elevated aggressiveness and athleticism of Pac-12 basketball. He has been a consistent scorer, tallying 13.8 points per game and solidifying himself as the best guard for USC.
Keys for the game:
Stanford’s first key is for da Silva to be healthy and ready to play at full strength. E. Mobley scored 23 points last time the Cardinal and Trojans faced off, and that number could be even higher if da Silva is out. Furthermore, Stanford lacks a true leader and an offensive spark with da Silva sidelined, which can partially explain last week’s loss to Oregon State.
The second key for the Cardinal is to capitalize on the guard advantage, and that starts with getting junior guard Wills back into the starting lineup. Since returning from injury, Wills has been coming off the bench, but he remains one of the best defenders in the league and is well-deserving of a spot in the starting five. When combined with senior guard Daejon Davis, the two form the best defensive guard duo in the Pac-12, and against a relatively weak USC combo of guards, Wills and Davis (and even freshman guard Michael O’Connell) can give the Cardinal a distinct leg up.
Just as Stanford needs to utilize its backcourt advantage, the first key for the Trojans is to capitalize on its frontcourt height advantage. While both teams have immensely talented big men, those for USC are quite simply bigger. Evan and Isaiah Mobley stand at 7 feet and 6’10” respectively, while da Silva and junior forward Jaiden Delaire are both 6’9″. While this difference may seem miniscule, having a seven-footer is a sizable advantage for USC. That advantage is exponentially larger when considering that the seven-footer is the favorite for Pac-12 Player of the Year and one of the most skilled players in all of college basketball.
The second key for USC is defense. USC’s trademark this season has been its stifling defense, which, for example, held BYU to 53 points on 7-of-30 from long range. KenPom ranks the Trojans 21st in the country for adjusted defense, which will be facing off against the 120th ranked adjusted offense of Stanford. Offensive inconsistency has plagued the Cardinal all season, and exploiting this weakness could help USC defend its home court.
Tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m. PT on Wednesday.