USC-Kansas: The battle of the debuts

December, 17, 2010
12/17/10
8:35
AM PT
About an hour before tip-off in USC's 73-56 win over Texas at the Galen Center last week, Trojans coach Kevin O'Neill walked toward the home locker room with a tired, exasperated look on his face.

"Two more games," he said in a half-quip, half-plea. "Two more games."




Well, it's no more games now. O'Neill was counting down the games until his "best player," guard Jio Fontan, became eligible to compete. Saturday's game at Kansas (9 a.m. PST, ESPN) will be his debut in a USC uniform, and, although it will likely be nationally overshadowed by the debut of Jayhawks freshman Josh Selby, it couldn't come at a better time for the Trojans.

USC will have its hands full, defending the Morris twin towers -- Markieff and Marcus --as well as guards Tyrel Reed, Tyshawn Taylor and Brady Morningstar and the rest of Kansas' deep, deep rotation.

A small piece of positive news for USC: Kansas guard Mario Little was suspended indefinitely by Jayhawks coach Bill Self after an incident with the law Thursday. Little, you may remember, was the Jayhawk who sunk the free throw that beat UCLA in Kansas' closest win to date earlier this month.


Some statistics of note about KU: only one player in its top nine has shot worse than 50 percent from the field this season; as a whole, the team is shooting 56 percent; the Jayhawks beat their first five opponents by an average margin of victory of more than 40 points.

O'Neill knows what he and his players are dealing with. The Trojans have been practicing lightly for much of this season to conserve energy, but that plan was temporarily scrapped this week in order to adequately prepare for the Jayhawks.

The focus, as point guard Maurice Jones and his teammates are quick to say, is defense.

"If we're gonna have any chance against Kansas, the first thing we need to do is play great transition defense and half-court defense," O'Neill said this week. "If you let these guys get shots, especially at home, as a legit top-five team they're going to beat you. "

"So we've gotta do a great job defensively and we've gotta handle their pressure."

As for the offensive side of things, USC will be experimenting with its new Jones-Fontan backcourt, but the goal for Saturday will clearly be to get the ball into the post to forwards Alex Stepheson and Nikola Vucevic. Of course, USC's pair hasn't dealt with an opposing pair the caliber of the Morris twins yet this season, but it should be an interesting battle.

Foul trouble could also play a role on either end. Neither team has much depth behind its starters -- although KU does have the 6-foot-9 Thomas Robinson in reserve. USC has freshman small forward Garrett Jackson and essentially nothing else.

Said Self in his weekly press conference when asked what he expects to see against USC: "Stepheson is a very good low post player so I think that will be a big concern with us. We are just a little bit thinner inside so we'll have to do a real good job playing defense on them now."

Notes: James Boyd, a defensive end on USC's football team, will not be suiting up for the basketball team this season despite rumors to the contrary. O'Neill said he met with football coach Lane Kiffin and the two decided it was better for Boyd to focus on football and academics at this point in time. ...Taylor and Fontan graduated in the same class from St. Anthony High in Jersey City, N.J. Taylor called Fontan his "best friend" during the Kansas press conference this week.

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