Two of the top contenders in the Pac-12 are ready to square off on Thursday night when the No. 16 USC Trojans visit the Colorado Buffaloes. Both teams are 4-2 in league play, which means that both teams need to get a win if they hope to stay within striking distance of Arizona and UCLA at the top of the Pac-12 standings.
The Trojans have done a nice job of replacing some key players off last year’s Elite Eight team. USC began the season 12-0, including wins over San Diego State, Utah, Washington State, and Georgia Tech. However, Andy Enfield’s team has hit a little snag lately, losing two of three games, including a 10-point home loss to Oregon over the weekend. With those losses, the Trojans now need to play catch-up behind Arizona and UCLA.
Thus far, Isaiah Mobley has done a fine job filling the void left by his brother. While he’s a different play from his brother as a serious threat on the perimeter, Mobley is still USC’s best rebounder and leading scorer with 15.3 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. The Trojans have also seen fifth-year senior Chevez Goodwin put together the best season of his career after taking a backseat to the Mobley brothers last season. The 6’9’’ forward is giving USC 13 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, as he and Mobley together can give teams trouble in the paint. Max Agbonkpolo and Joshua Morgan also add to the impressive size and athleticism the Trojans have in the frontcourt.
In terms of guard play, Tahj Eaddy left big shoes to fill but Drew Peterson has stepped up and Memphis transfer Boogie Ellis has helped a lot too. Ellis has been a great addition as a three-point shooting threat while Peterson is also shooting a high percentage from the perimeter and posting impressive rebounding numbers. While neither is a pure point guard, they are both sharing the basketball and averaging double figures for the Trojans. However, the Trojans have been a little underwhelmed by Ethan Anderson, who is better suited to be the point guard but is averaging just 5.8 points and 2.4 assists per game. Isaiah White and freshman Malik Thomas have also been a little disappointing, which means USC doesn’t have as much backcourt depth as expected.
Colorado has made some great strides in recent years, although the Buffs have yet to prove that they’re ready to take another step forward this season. For starters, there was a puzzling loss to Southern Illinois early in the season. The Buffaloes also fell flat in losses to UCLA and Tennessee, leaving them without a signature win on the season. On the bright side, the Buffs are 3-1 after seeing multiple games postponed due to COVID.
The biggest question Colorado faced heading into the season was who would replace McKinley Wright. They’ve yet to fully answer that question, as the Buffaloes have become more of a frontcourt-oriented team. Junior Jabari Walker has taken his game to another level, averaging 13.1 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. Senior Evan Battey and sophomore Tristan da Silva are also regular contributors, averaging 12.3 and 8.8 points per game, respectively, while also helping Walker on the boards. That trio gives Colorado good size and athleticism in the frontcourt.
Alas, scoring and consistency from the Colorado backcourt are a little lacking. Keeshawn Barthelemy has shown significant improvement as a sophomore, giving the Buffs 11.1 points per game. However, the fact that he leads the team with just 2.7 assists per game is not a good sign for the Colorado offense. The Buffaloes also lack a player who has made at least 20 three-point shots in 16 games, so their outside game is limited. Senior Elijah Parquet is little more than a solid role player while a highly-anticipated freshmen class is yet to leave its mark on the team, although KJ Sampson has shown some flashes, including a 17-point performance in a recent loss to Arizona.
The Buffaloes are hoping that playing at home against a USC team that’s hit a rough patch recently will be enough to get them over the top. However, the Trojans would appear to have the frontcourt players to balance out Colorado’s biggest strength. USC also has better scorers in the backcourt despite lacking elite point guard play. The Buffs should be able to make this game close, but the Trojans might have enough talent to pull out a road win.
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