Arizona State hopes to bounce back from a disappointing 71-54 loss to in-state rival Arizona. USC is an intriguing opponent for the Sun Devils with interim coach Bob Cantu taking over for recently dismissed Kevin O’Neill and trying to put his stamp on a Trojan squad that stands at 8-11, 3-3 Pac-12 on the year.
On Thursday, Arizona State could be without senior guard Chris Colvin, who was suspended for violating team rules. Colvin’s absence was a major factor for the Sun Devils against Arizona; without him in the lineup, freshman point guard Jahii Carson was forced into extended duty — and consequently early foul trouble. The Wildcats also exposed ASU’s lack of depth on the bench, which will remain a concern throughout the remainder of the 2012-2013 campaign.
USC has had its own set of issues this season. The Trojans came up just short against the high-flying Oregon Ducks 76-74 last Thursday night, and then secured a 69-68 victory over Oregon State on Saturday. But, like ASU, they lack depth in their starting lineup, resulting in inconsistent play all year.
USC is right in the middle of the Pac-12 as the sixth ranked team in the conference. Look for senior point guard Jio Fontan, junior guard JT Terrell, senior forward Eric Wise, sophomore forward Byron Wesley and junior center Omar Oraby to provide challenging matchups for the Sun Devils on both ends of the hardwood.
USC’s starting guards were supposed to be the team’s strength before the year started. However, Fontan, who is coming back from an ACL injury, is shooting just 32.5 percent from the field. In USC’s win over Oregon State, he finished with eight points (his season average is 8.4) and 10 turnovers.
Terrell is having problems of his own. He was benched earlier in the season, and since his return to the starting lineup, has shot a dismal 32.4 percent from the floor and just 32.7 percent from 3-point territory.
On the bright side for USC, Wesley has steadily improved on offense, scoring 30 points in his past two games. He’s gained a reputation for driving to the basket with purpose and determination. Against Oregon State, Wesley carried the Trojans with 12 first-half points.
Wise, a transfer from UC Irvine, leads USC in points per game (12.5), field goal percentage (51.7), and is second in rebounds (4.9) plus third in assists (1.5). Many fans now regard him as the Trojan’s “go-to” player.
Unlike previous USC coaching staffs, Cantu has not been hesitant to implement a zone defense. When USC was starting to loose momentum against Oregon State, Cantu immediately switched to a zone strategy to combat the Beavers pick-and-roll offense. This approach works best when forwards Aaron Fuller and Dewayne Dedmon are in the lineup alongside wingman Eric Wise down low, allowing the Trojans to contest shots from all over the court,
• Freshman Jahii Carson is averaging a Pac-12 best 36.1 minutes per game, the best mark by a freshman in Sun Devil history.
• Carson is averaging 20.7 points and shooting 50 percent from field in the past three games and is second in the nation in minutes per game by a freshman.
• In Pac-12 games, Carrick Felix leads the conference at 39.2 minutes per game.
• ASU’s free throw percentage of 61.5 is 329th out of 347 Division I teams.
• ASU is 5-1 against USC under Coach Sendek in Tempe.