The Stanford Cardinal head down to LA to battle USC tonight in a pivotal matchup with postseason implications. Stanford is currently 10-6 overall and 3-2 in the Pac-10. USC is 10-8 and 2-3 in the Pac-10. Both teams did not face too many impressive opponents in their non-conference schedule, and their RPI has suffered accordingly. Stanford is 97th overall, while USC is 84th.
As February approaches, the battle will heat up as teams attempt to better position themselves for the Pac-10 tournament in March. Washington and Arizona appear to be the two teams that will pull away in the regular season standings and get the top two seeds. Neither team has established complete separation from the rest of the conference, but I wouldn't be surprised if those two squads were two or three games up on the next best teams when we get into late February.
Tonight, Stanford will look to build a little separation for themselves on the rest of the bottom half of the Pac-10. UCLA, who is currently tied with Stanford for third place, will be hosting Cal tonight and both Stanford and UCLA will look to gain an edge on the other team. Washington State is a half game back of Stanford, but has the tiebreaker at the moment courtesy of a huge road win at Maples Pavilion.
SPORTS NETWORK GAME NOTES: Few teams in the Pac-10 are capable of playing as well at the defensive end as Stanford has thus far, as the team is limiting opponents to 59.8 ppg on 40.7 percent shooting from the floor. Unfortunately, the offensive attack of the Cardinal is rather weak, as they are generating a modest 65.1 ppg on 43.3 percent field goal efficiency. Jeremy Green is the leading scorer for Stanford through 16 outings, as he is netting 15.5 ppg despite 39.4 percent field goal efficiency. Josh Owens, the only other double-digit scorer on the roster, is a 60.3 percent shooter who provides 12.1 ppg and 6.5 rpg. Stanford shot just 34.4 percent from the field in the narrow loss to Washington State last weekend, including an 8-of-25 showing from three-point range. Green scored 13 points in that affair, but his 5-of-16 effort from the floor left much to be desired. Owens and Anthony Brown tallied 12 points apiece.
Through 18 outings, USC is scoring 68.1 ppg while limiting opponents to 63.3 ppg on 40.9 percent field goal efficiency. The Trojans are led by Nikola Vucevic, who has started every contest thus far and is netting 16.4 ppg while ripping down 10.1 rpg. Jio Fontan, a transfer from Fordham, has started all eight games since becoming eligible and is posting 13.1 ppg. As for Maurice Jones, who has handed out 67 assists, his output of 10.3 ppg would be significantly higher if not for 35.2 percent shooting from the floor. In the four-point loss to Oregon State last time out, Vucevic put forth a tremendous effort, shooting 12-of-18 from the field and finishing with 26 points and 14 rebounds. Fontan added 14 points and six assists, and while Jones finished with 10 points, his 2-of-11 shooting effort from the floor was poor. The most obvious contributing factor in the loss was a 27-7 deficit in points from the foul line.
The edge goes to USC tonight, as it figures to do just enough to get past Stanford. Clearly, both of these teams have some room for improvement.
FACTS & STATS: Site: Galen Center (10,258) -- Los Angeles, California. Television: None. Home Record: Stanford 8-1, USC 8-2. Away Record: Stanford 1-3, USC 1-5. Neutral Record: Stanford 1-2, USC 1-1. Conference Record: Stanford 3-2, USC 2-3. Series Record: USC leads, 119-118.
Thursday, January 20th, 10:30 p.m. (et)
Sports Network Prediction: USC 70, Stanford 66