Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

March 15, 2009

Living Up to the Hype

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 1:38 am

At the beginning of the 2008-09 season, a USC run to the Pac-10 Tournament title would have been a reasonable prediction. By the time the tournament started, with the Trojans having gone 9-9 in conference, lost six of nine games in the second half of Pac-10 play and fought on the court at the conclusion of a home loss to Washington, it seemed like a longshot–even in a conference that was marked all season by the absence of a dominant team or teams.

Nonetheless, on Saturday USC clinched an NCAA Tournament berth which was not likely forthcoming without the automatic bid. The Trojans rallied from a 15-point halftime deficiit and beat Arizona State 66-63 to emerge as Pac-10 champions.

What was remarkable about USC’s run, which featured wins over three of the Pac-10’s top four teams, was that all three wins were very different games. On Thursday, the Trojans outscored the potent Cal offense in a 79-75 win. Last night, they showcased their defense, holding UCLA to a dismal 76.2 points per 100 possessions. Today’s game was a slowdown 54-possession affair, which means neither defense was as impressive as the final score would indicate. Southern Cal won this game too with offense, putting up a 122.2 Offensive Rating. I’m not sure of the possession breakdown, but USC’s efficiency had to be off the charts in a 42-point second half.

That’s one reason to be wary of seeing the Trojans come up opposite your favorite team when the NCAA Tournament bracket is revealed tomorrow afternoon. The other reason is the player who serves as a microcosm for his entire team in terms of belatedly fulfilling expectations. In College Basketball Prospectus 2008-2009, I quoted scouts as comparing DeMar DeRozan to the likes of Vince Carter and even Kobe Bryant. Those seemed laughable–well, maybe not to Raptors fans–when DeRozan scored single-digits in three of his first five collegiate games. So much for talk of being a top-five pick after one year at USC.

DeRozan has quietly made progress over the course of the season, offering the Trojans more consistent production. He put it all together during the Pac-10 Tournament, scoring 63 points and grabbing 27 rebounds over the three games to earn Most Outstanding Player honors. DeRozan showcased newfound three-point range (his three threes in the tournament were as many as he hit during the entire regular season) and the ability to create off the dribble. DeRozan shot 57.5 percent from the field in the three games.

With DeRozan stepping into the O.J. Mayo role, the Pac-10’s Defensive Player of the Year (Taj Gibson) anchoring the paint and a defense that can be stifling for extended stretches (the first half against Cal, the second half against ASU and the entire game against UCLA), the Trojans have the parts to play spoiler again next week in the NCAA Tournament.

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