With the L.A. schools scheduled to visit on Thursday and Saturday, it’s going to be quite the weekend of hoops for the Runnin’ Utes. Not only are both USC and UCLA ranked opponents, but both of these games will have a significant impact on the postseason, starting with the first matchup against the No. 25 Trojans on Thursday.
USC was one of the early surprises to the season after starting the campaign a perfect 14-0. During that stretch, though, none of the wins were very notable. A win over the TDS is probably the best win currently on its schedule, but let’s be real, does it even mean that much? (Answer: No.)
Since Pac-12 play has started, the Trojans are an even 2-2 with wins over Oregon State and Stanford and losses to Oregon and Cal. It was expected to see them come out on top on the first two teams, who currently occupy the cellar of the Pac-12, but it’s the latter two games that should have Utah fans feeling pretty good -- or at least more confident than when USC was undefeated -- heading into Thursday’s game.
Oregon is obviously no joke. The Ducks seem to be hitting their stride after faltering early in the year, so the fact that the Trojans fell in Eugene isn’t much of a shock. That said, a 23-point loss? That’s pretty bad for any team, let alone one that was viewed as a contender when Pac-12 play started.
Then, the Trojans follow that up the next weekend by falling to Cal at home. The Golden Bears are about the same level as USC, evident by the 74-73 final score, but if the Trojans couldn’t take care of business on their home floor against a pretty evenly-matched team, how will they play with the screams of the MUSS raining down on them in the Huntsman Center?
All that said, USC is 15-2 for a reason, no matter who they’ve played. While Utah fans should feel pretty good about their chances heading into it, chances are the Trojans realize how important this game is in terms of the standings, especially after dropping that winnable game against Cal.
The Trojans are led Jordan McLaughlin, who averages 14.5 points and 5.1 assists per game. But he’s hardly the only contributor. USC boasts four other players who average double-digit points, but one of them is injured forward Bennie Boatwright, who isn’t expected to play against the Utes on Thursday.
This will most likely mean that Utah will see more of Chimezie Metu, who is a beast in his own right at 6-foot-11. He and David Collette will surely battle down low for dominance in the post.
In the end, this game is going to be close. While it may be coming back down to Earth a little bit, USC is still very much a competitive team in the Conference of Champions and if Utah doesn’t bring it’s ‘A’ game, it could spell trouble in Salt Lake City.
But remember, the Utes have won the last seven contests against the Trojans. For some reason, Coach K has these guys figured out and with the home-court advantage on Thursday, it’s tough to envision anything but a Utah win.