USC Trojans vs. Texas Longhorns Preview and Pick – Point Spread

USC Trojans (2-2 SU, 0-2-1 ATS) vs. Texas Longhorns (5-0 SU, 5-0 ATS), 9:00 p.m. EST, Thursday, December 3, 2009, Frank Erwin Special Events Center, Austin, Tex. TV: ESPN2
by Ryno of

Point Spread: USC +20.5/Texas -20.5
Over/Under: 133

As the Big Ten/ACC Challenge comes to a close, the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series gets underway for conference bragging rights, as the No. 2 Texas Longhorns host the depleted USC Trojans.

These two teams couldn’t be more opposite this year. Texas returns almost its entire team from last season plus brings in a ridiculous recruiting class to form an absolutely loaded roster. The Trojans lost their coach and most of their roster from last season as Tim Floyd was fired in the offseason.

Texas is poised for a national championship run this season. The Longhorns return the likes of Damion James, Dexter Pittman and Justin Mason, and add highly touted freshmen Avery Bradley, Jordan Hamilton and Shawn Williams. James and Pittman form one of the best inside duos in college basketball. Pittman is a heavy load down low, while James is a versatile forward who can dominate the boards or step out and play like a guard. Thus far, James is leading the team in scoring and rebounding with 15.4 points and 10.2 rebounds per game, while Pittman is right behind him with 15.2 points and 6.2 rebounds per game.

Redshirt freshman guard J’Covan Brown has emerged as one of the leaders for the Longhorns, averaging 12.8 points per game. He is a very quick guard who can create his own shot and is a very good shooter off the dribble. The Longhorns have a lot of capable point guards on their roster. It can be a problem having so many good ones and not having enough playing time to go around, but at least the Longhorns will always be set at that position this year. Mason is a senior who is very good at running the offense and is a terrific defender, but he doesn’t give the Longhorns any scoring. He has started all five games and is averaging just 1.4 points per game. Dogus Balbay started at point guard during the second half of last season. He can’t shoot very well but he is very smart and a capable penetrator. The only issue is that defenders will often sag off him because they know he can’t shoot from beyond the arc. Balbay is averaging 4.0 points, 4.8 rebounds and a team-high 4.2 assists per game. Bradley and Brown are scoring guards, but the two of them are strong enough ball-handlers that they could also run the point at times.

Texas has had some tests in its first five games. Iowa gave the Longhorns a challenge in the first half as the game was at halftime, but Texas blew the Hawkeyes away by 25 in the second half. Against Pittsburgh, it was tight throughout the game but the Longhorns ran away with it late in the second half for a 16-point victory. They have been starting slow in some games but finishing very strong. This has a lot to do with their depth.

USC lost the large majority of its talent from last season after Floyd was fired. Along with that, many of the recruits that initially were going to attend USC chose not to. Now, the Trojans are one of the bottom teams in the Pac-10. That has showed early in the season as they have already lost to Loyola Marymount and Nebraska. New coach Kevin O’Neill must figure out a way to get this group of players to mesh in time for the Pac-10 season.

There isn’t much depth on this team but there are a few capable players. Dwight Lewis is the team’s top returning player. He can score from anywhere on the court and is a very good defender at well. The 6-foot-5 wing is averaging 12.2 points per game and is only shooting 32.6 percent from the field. The Trojans need him to find his shooting touch if they are going to win some games this season. Down low, the Trojans have a pair of long 6-foot-10 big men in Alex Stepheson and Nikola Vucevic. Stepheson is a transfer from North Carolina and is averaging 13.0 points and 10.5 rebounds per game, while Vucevic is also grabbing 10.5 rebounds and is leading the team in scoring with 14.2 points per game. Marcus Johnson and Marcus Simmons are a pair of capable athletic wings for the Trojans. Both of them can score by taking the ball to the basket and can hit a few jumpers. Both are averaging around 10 points per game. Donte Smith is a quick 5-foot-11 point guard who can penetrate and get to the basket and also create shots for himself. He is averaging 10.2 points per game but is only dishing out 1.5 assists and turning the ball over 3.2 times per game.

Ryno’s Pick: USC is not going to win this game. It’s just not going to happen. Will the Trojans be able to cover? That’s a different story. In order to do so, Lewis will have to shoot well and score over 20 points. Vucevic and Stepheson will have to stay out of foul trouble and play tough against James and Pittman down low. Smith will have to get into the lane and find open teammates. Like Iowa and Pitt did to Texas, the Trojans may keep the game close in the first half. But because of the difference between these teams in depth, Texas will wear them down in the second half and run up the score. It seems like 20 points is a lot for USC to lose by, but it’s really not considering the lack of talent this team has. Take Texas -20.5.