Thursday, December 23, 2010
USC-Lehigh: The final tune-up
By Pedro Moura
A few notes and things to pay attention to during tonight's game:
- As we noted in the USC-Tennessee postgame report, forward Nikola Vucevic didn't have a great road trip, totaling just 17 points in the two games against Kansas and UT. How can Vucevic rebound? Well, playing against a team with only one key player taller than 6-foot-7 should help. It will be interesting to see if Trojans coach Kevin O'Neill goes to Vucevic early, as his performances lately have pretty much been determined by how he starts. Get going early, and he should be good to go. Re-establishing Vucevic tonight is important for USC, simply because it is his final chance before Pac-10 play starts and he'll be forced to go head-to-head with the Matthew Bryan-Amaning and DeAngelo Castos of the world.
- And Jio Fontan? Considering his first two games in a USC uniform were against who they were against and considering he scored 15 and 13 points while shooting better than 50 percent from the field, he's certainly been a successful -- and necessary -- addition so far. Now the challenge is assimilating him into the offense a bit better, which we started to see on Tuesday but saw little of against Kansas, with his oddly-timed drives to the hoop in the first half of that game. Can Fontan be a true shooting guard, or does he need the ball in his hands a lot to feel comfortable? If so, maybe Maurice Jones should be the one playing off the ball. Jones did that his senior year of high school in Saginaw, Mich.; Fontan hasn't yet proven capable of that but still could. Where does Donte Smith fit into all of this? Surprisingly, the senior guard is scoring just as much as forward Alex Stepheson through 12 games. When Smith, Fontan and Jones were on the court at the same time against Tennessee, USC's offense seemed to run particularly well. Let's watch how it goes against Lehigh tonight.
- The player to watch for Lehigh is guard C.J. McCollum, a rising sophomore who was the Patriot League Player of the Year last year as a freshman. By all accounts, he's an impressive player and truly one of the best USC will encounter this year. He's had only non-double-digit scoring game this season and three games in which he scored more than 30 points, including a huge 42-point outburst in a loss at Kent State the day after Thanksgiving. McCollum had a lethal 3-point stroke last season, at 42 percent, but that area of his game has fallen off somewhat this year. Of course, Lehigh made the NCAA Tournament last season as a No. 16 seed and was saddled with playing No. 1 Kansas in the first round -- a game they actually played very well in and a game in which McCollum posted a memorable line that included 26 points, seven rebounds, three assists, three steals and a block. Other notable players for the Mountain Hawks: swingman Michael Ojo, from Santa Monica Crossroads School, and forward Gabe Knutson, a 6-foot-9 Iowa native averaging 12.5 points per game this season.
We'll have a postgame report on the blog.