USC basketball: Trojans compare VCU to Washington; Rams compare USC to Old Dominion, Drexel ... UCLA?
USC Coach Kevin O'Neill has watched Virginia Commonwealth University more than a few times this season, and he has watched them quite a few more since it was announced Sunday that the Trojans (19-14) would face VCU (23-11) in the first round of the NCAA tournament here Wednesday night.
Who do the Rams remind him of?
Washington, a fellow Pacific 10 Conference school known to run and gun that was the preseason landslide pick to win the Pac-10; the Huskies didn't, for the record, but they did win the Pac-10 tournament -- on a spectacular shot, no less.
"They shoot 28 threes a game," O'Neill said Monday. "They press a lot. They’re very aggressive. They’re a strip-steal team. And extremely well-coached."
VCU led the Colonial Athletic Association in three-point field goals made per game (8.2), steals per game (8.5) and turnover margin (3.3).
And Washington led the Pac-10 in three-point field goals made per game (8.8), was fourth in steals per game (6.7) and second in turnover margin (2.6).
So, as you can see, they are similar in several ways.
But which team does VCU compare USC to?
"I definitely see probably ODU [Old Dominion University]. Probably -- who else?" VCU junior guard Brandon Burgess said Tuesday here.
"Like Drexel," said VCU senior guard Joey Rodriguez.
"A little bit of Drexel. They're a big, physical team. And we're going to have our work cut out for us. They have a very talented big man [senior forward Jamie Skeen who we are] going to be matched up against. They have some quick guards that we'll have to keep in front and not allow dribble penetration."
And VCU Coach Shaka Smart, what say you? Played anyone USC-esque this season?
"Yeah, actually, we've played a lot of teams that have some similarities with USC. We really have a lot of respect for USC's physical front court and their ability to rebound onf the offensive end. And then their guards are extremely good at getting in the lane, making plays and they can get hot from outside."
"So from our league, Drexel is similar to that. Old Dominion has some similarities to their physicality inside, their ability to score around the basket.
"And then we played UCLA early in the season, in the preseason NIT, and obviously there's some similarities there between those two teams."
Drexel (21-10) and Old Dominion (27-6) are both quite a bit like USC in that each plays low-scoring, grinding games.
In the scoring defense category, Drexel holds its opponents to 59.7 points, Old Dominion to 58.3 and USC to 62.8.
In scoring offense, Drexel averages 63.7, Old Dominion 65.8 and USC 66.8.
Both Drexel and Old Dominion play man-to-man defense in which their players help and recover when a teammate gets beat to the basket.
They also focus on keeping the ball out of the paint and forcing their opponent to take difficult, low-percentage shots.
"They try to blow up all your offensive schemes, concepts," said Mike Rhoades, a VCU assistant coach. "They're very physical and they play from the rim out."
Neither ODU nor Drexel boasts a front line that's as big or skilled as USC's 6-foot-10 tandem of junior Nikola Vucevic and senior Alex Stepheson, but both teams are as strong and physical, Rhoades said.
What's this all mean?
Well, if we're comparing how USC has fared against a team like VCU, you'd look at how the Trojans did against Washington.
And USC split the season series, with both teams winning on the opponent's home court in close games.
Coincidentally, that's exactly how VCU has fared against Drexel and Old Dominion.
The Rams split the two-game series against each team, with the road team winning each game.
And as for that UCLA comparison, it's worth noting that USC split its two games with the Bruins while the Rams beat UCLA in the NIT Season Tip-Off in Madison Square Garden in New York.
And just for kicks, here are some facts about VCU:
--This is the fourth time in the last eight seasons that the Rams have advanced to the NCAA tournament (2004, 2007, 2009, 2011). The program has advanced to seven postseason tournaments over that span.
--This is the Rams' first at-large NCAA tournament berth since 1983-84.
--VCU's Rodriguez, a 5-foot-10, 175-pound Merritt Island, Fla., native, is the all-time leader in games played at VCU with 136. He's also the all-time minutes played leader (4,192), second in steals (227), fourth in assists (534) and is 16 points away from climbing into 17th place on the school's scoring chart. He currently has 1,308.
--Smart is the second-youngest coach in this year's NCAA tournament. At 33, he's five months older than Memphis' Josh Pastner.
-- Baxter Holmes in Dayton, Ohio
Photo: VCU Coach Shaka Smart, front, directs his players during practice Tuesday. Credit: Associated Press.