The Arizona St. Sun Devils and USC Trojans square off Saturday night in ASU's penultimate game of the hardwood season. Both teams have struggled immensely in conference play this year, but both have a chance tonight to earn a nice victory as the end of the year approaches to salvage some of the carnage that has been the 2011-12 season.
I chatted with Michael Castillo over at Reign of Troy to get his take on the state of basketball at USC and in the Pac-12: past, present and future. Check out his responses below, and check out my take on ASU basketball on Reign of Troy here.
Like ASU, USC has had have very little luck in conference play this season. What's your take on the Pac-12 hierarchy moving forward and where do you see the Trojans fitting in?
I think it's hard to really predict the Pac-12. For years, it was Arizona, Stanford and the rest of the bunch. Then, it was UCLA and everyone else. Right now we don't have that gap, and I think it's hard to evaluate the conference because of that, as we're used to having one or two teams that are serious national contenders(both in football and basketball) and a bunch of good teams beneath them. Moving forward, I think we'll start to see more parody in the conference for a while until the television money really takes effect in basketball. Because of that, I can see a healthy Trojans squad of the future filling out the same role they have played in the conference for the last decade, which is competitive, but typically on the outside of the conference race.
Check out more questions after the jump.
USC finished fourth in the conference last year with a 10-8 conference record. What do you the biggest difference is between that team and this one?
Biggest difference is health. The Trojans are playing with just six scholarship players and have just one starter who would be getting regular minutes if everyone was healthy, and that's Maurice Jones. The health, or lack thereof, has really affected the Trojans' ability to rebound and play sound basketball. They're currently 343rd in the nation in rebounding, which is second to last, and that's a stat that should never ever been seen in a conference like the Pac-12, but it goes to show that happens when Kevin O'Neill is forced to play a 6'6" bench player at power forward and center. So quite simply, the Trojans miss Alex Stephenson and Nikolva Vucevic, who averaged nearly 20 boards per game combined.
In your opinion, what (or who) has been the biggest surprise for the Trojans this year?
It's hard to say, but probably Garrett Jackson. He's been given a huge role and has had to play all three forward positions with the Trojans after Aaron Fuller and Dewayne Dedmon were lost for the season. While he's not been a dominant player, his ability to score and not crack under pressure has been impressive for a first time starter. Having said that, Jackson's impact on the defensive end of the floor has yet to be seen, and even though he's the team's best rebounder at the moment, he's only maxed out with six boards and he's done that just twice.
Last time ASU and USC played, ASU pulled out a tight 62-53 victory at the Galen Center. How do you think the rematch plays out (tonight)?
This is definitely each team's final shot at winning game this season, if you exclude the fact that ASU will likely draw Utah on the first day of the Pac-12 Tournament. Because of that, I think both teams will be focused and since ASU played UCLA tough on Thursday night, I expect the Sun Devils to come in knowing they can put together some strong minutes. It'll come down to rebounding as always, and if USC can grab some boards and ASU plays as they did against Washington State, the Trojans will have a solid chance. In the end however, I can't see USC winning on the road. Devils by a touchdown.
What can we expect to see from USC next year?
It might be easier to predict where Peyton Manning will play next season, than how USC Basketball will be. Kevin O'Neill's bringing a strong recruiting class that includes transfers and a player who when I last heard, was leading junior college players in scoring. Jio Fontan, the Trojans' best player a year ago, will return after he blew out his knee in Brazil over the summer and immediately should be an All-Conference candidate. Plus, guys like Aaron Fuller and Dewayne Dedmon come back with the experience they gained early on this season. So there's plenty of reasons to feel optimistic about the Trojans next season, but whether or not Kevin O'Neill returns remains to be seen. Knowing USC Hoops, it's hard not to be somewhat cynical.
So there you have it. Both teams would love to earn the win tonight and generate some positive momentum heading into the final stage of this season and into next season. Can the Sun Devils get the win? Vote on the poll below and find out tonight at 6:00 p.m. MT on Fox Sports Arizona.