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USC basketball: TCU pregame

November 29, 2010 |  4:37 pm

Greetings and salutations! 

Coming to you from Daniel-Meyer Coliseum in Fort Worth, Texas, where USC (4-3) and TCU (4-2) will meet for the first time to play a basketball game that got downgraded in terms of campus newsworthiness this afternoon when school officials announced that TCU, located in a town said to be "Where the West begins," is movin' on up (they're movin' on up), to the Big East side (they're movin' on up), to a deluxe apartment in the sky...

Yes, the Horned Frogs finally have a piece of the pie, which is baked with an ingredient the Mountain West Conference can't offer: BCS automatic qualification status. 

Good for Horned Frogs. It took a whole lotta tryin' for them to leap up that hill. Now they're up in the big leagues (one of the biggest, with 17 members), getting their turn at bat, and if those toads can't hack it, they'll get run over like splat.

Which is probably what will happen to TCU's basketball team because, after all, we're talking about the big bad Big East. 

But I digress...

Here are some facts and stats to get you ready before the 5 p.m. PST tipoff (radio broadcast on 710):

Points per game/opponents points per game

USC: 69.6/62.6
TCU: 72/66.7

TCU probable starters

Pos. No. Name Ht. Wt. Class Hometown PPG RPG

G 1 Jarvis Ray 6-6 180 Fr. New Orleans 2.8 2.8

G 10 Hank Thorns 5-9 160 Jr. Las Vegas 9.5 3.8

G 23 J.R. Cadot 6-5 195 Jr. Nassau, Bahamas 6.5 6.5

F 15 Nikola Gacesa 6-9 240 Sr. Belgrade, Serbia 4.5 3.0

F 33 Garlon Green 6-7 210 So. Missouri City, Texas 10.7 3.8

USC Trojans Probable Starters

Pos. No. Name Ht. Wt. Class Hometown PPG RPG

G 10 Maurice Jones 5-7 155 Fr. Saginaw, Mich 13.3 3.6

G 15 Bryce Jones 6-5 200 Fr. Los Angeles 12.7 3.1

G 43 Marcus Simmons 6-6 220 Sr. Alexandria, La. 6.4 4.4

F 1 Alex Stepheson 6-10 250 Sr.* Los Angeles 7.4 7.3

F 5 Nikola Vucevic 6-10 260 Jr. Bar, Montenegro 16.0 11.0

* utilized redshirt season

USC player to watch: senior forward Alex Stepheson

As I wrote in today's editions of The Times, Stepheson is playing pretty well with a broken hand, combining for 25 points and 21 rebounds in his last two games.

It helps that he's receiving tips from USC first-year assistant coach Tony Miller, who played with a wrist injury in college that forced him to wear a cast, just like Stepheson is doing now.

Miller has taught Stepheson some tricks about how to play with a banged-up hand, and Stepheson seemed to break them out against the Nebraska Cornhuskers' husky frontline, against which he scored 14 points and grabbed nine rebounds. 

TCU isn't as big as Nebraska so Stepheson should have more chances at being successful. USC needs as much, since junior forward Nikola Vucevic seems to be a tad inconsistent, scoring a season-low five points in his last game after averaging about 17 coming into the game.

TCU player to watch:  junior guard Ronnie Moss 

Moss leads the team in scoring (15.7 points per game) and is also one of the league's better passers. He averaged 5.9 assists last season and is at 3.7 this season. 

But he can also be turnover prone. He averaged 3.7 of those last season and is averaging three this season. 

I'm curious to see if USC's freshmen law-firm-like backcourt of Jones and Jones can pick Moss' pocket a few times. If they can, and get some easy transition buckets out of it, USC may be able to build a lead, which isn't to say that the Trojans would keep it, though, since they blew a 20-point lead on Saturday.  

Key to the game: defense

USC looked great on offense in the first half of its 60-58 loss to Nebraska, but the players played better on that end because they put forth a ton of effort on the defensive end.

Trouble is, when USC started slacking on defense, which began not long before halftime when it had a 20-point lead, the offense started to struggle, and it did for the rest of the game.

If USC can play good defense, just good defense, for 40 minutes, it ought to win, regardless of how the offense plays, but you can bet that its offense will play better if the defense does too. 

Lastly: 

-USC, which has lost four consecutive road games and 10 of 12 dating back to last season, is still trying for its first true road win this season, but it may not come tonight. Why? It wouldn't follow the pattern. USC won its first two games, lost its next two, won its next two, and lost its last one. Eerie, no? Plus, TCU is 3-0 at home this season. That probably doesn't help either. 

-Tonight ends USC's season-opening eight-games-in-17-days stretch, and you can bet the team needs a breather, especially freshman point guard Maurice Jones, who has played 276 out of a possible 280 minutes so far.

-- Baxter Holmes in Fort Worth

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