On Tuesday afternoon, Stanford men’s basketball (8-4, 1-1 Pac-12) is set to face No. 5 USC (13-0, 3-0 Pac-12) in Palo Alto. On paper, this matchup seems to favor the undefeated top-10 Trojans. But if history is an indicator of anything, when the Trojans come to town, the Cardinal have their number. Prior to a last year’s final-minute loss, Stanford had won five straight and 13 of the last 15 matchups versus USC in Maples Pavilion.
The Cardinal enter the contest with a mix of highs and lows throughout the season thus far. Early blowout losses to Santa Clara (10-5, 0-0 WCC) and No. 1 Baylor (15-0, 3-0 Big 12) exposed the lack of experience and long-range shooting that hinders the team.
However, Stanford got things back on track with a strong 4-1 record in December, including back-to-back nail-biting wins against Oregon (8-6, 1-2 Pac-12) and Dartmouth (4-9, 1-1 Ivy League), as well as a scheduled appearance in the championship game of the Diamond Head Classic prior to its cancellation.
Following the Diamond Head Classic tournament, COVID-19 struggles plagued the Cardinal, as three straight Pac-12 matchups — including this game versus USC, originally scheduled for January 8 — were postponed “due to health and safety protocols within the Stanford program.”
The Trojans faced similar difficulties also, as confirmed COVID-19 cases within their program led to the cancellation or postponement of three straight games.
Prior to the hiatus, though, USC was off to a historic start. The undefeated Trojans have earned their highest ranking since 1974, landing at No. 5 in the AP Top 25 Poll. The team put on a dominant display in non-conference play, bringing a Paycom Wooden Legacy championship back to Los Angeles along the way.
USC hopes to continue their historical run with the dynamic play of six-foot-ten junior forward Isaiah Mobley. Averaging 15.3 points per game and 9.5 rebounds per game, Mobley leads the team in both categories. With his interior presence also comes an efficient jump shot, hitting 44% from the three-point line. The Trojans’ overall offensive versatility comes from four double-digit scorers. With so many options, USC poses matchup problems for anyone they face.
The Cardinal hope to return to December form, where multiple players were beginning to catch fire. Despite early-season shakiness for the team, freshman forward Harrison Ingram is well on his way to establishing himself as a college basketball star. Ingram has already collected four Pac-12 Freshman of the Week awards, with three straight in December, to boast an impressive statline of 12.2 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game. However, arguably the most promising developments in Stanford’s play have been the re-emergences of senior forward Jaiden Delaire and junior forward Spencer Jones. Delaire leads the cardinal in scoring with 12.3 points per game on 48% shooting from the field. Jones came alive in the Diamond Head Classic, scoring 15 and 25 against Wyoming and Liberty, respectively. His 25 came in an unstoppable performance where he efficiently shot 8-of-11 and 5-of-8 from deep.
With USC being one of the better teams in college basketball, staying hot for the Cardinal would be an important mid-season win, especially looking ahead towards making the March Madness Tournament. A win for USC would keep the Trojans near the top of the AP Rankings, again solidifying them as a contender for the national title. But first, they have to deal with the Stanford Cardinal.
Tip-off is scheduled for Tuesday at 2 p.m. at Maples Pavilion.