Cal Men's Basketball: Cal MBB faces USC in Saturday Smackdown
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Cal MBB faces USC in Saturday Smackdown

Mark Fox huddles with his team against UCLA
Mark Fox huddles with his team against UCLA (D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports)

On Saturday, Cal men’s basketball will welcome the USC Trojans to Haas Pavilion in Berkeley. After a false positive COVID test postponed USC’s game against Stanford on Thursday, the game at Cal is still on. Tipoff is set for 5:00 PM PST on Pac-12 Networks and KGO 810 AM. Cal comes in at 7-9 overall and 2-7 in the Pac-12 while USC comes in at 11-3 overall and 5-2 in the Pac-12.

MBB Notebook: Improbable Mountain Split, LA Schools Come to Haas

Last time out: Cal took No. 24 UCLA to the wire on Thursday night, falling 61-57. Cal senior forward Grant Anticevich had a huge performance with 21 points.

RECAP: Cal MBB battles hard in loss to No. 24 UCLA

On USC: The Trojans are off to a really solid start this season. They’ve dropped only two games in league play and have notched some impressive wins against BYU (neutral site), Arizona (road), and Arizona State (road). They’ve also done a nice job of taking care of business against teams they should beat.

They are led by freshman 7-footer Evan Mobley, who is averaging 15.9 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 3.0 blocks per game on 59.6% shooting from the field, 33.3% shooting from 3-point range, and 68.8% shooting from the foul line. Redshirt senior guard Tahj Eaddy (12.5 points) and junior guard Drew Peterson (10.9 points & 5.6 rebounds) are also scoring in double figures.

As a team, the Trojans are averaging 76.7 points per game on 47.1% shooting from the field, 33.2% shooting from 3-point range, and 64.2% shooting from the foul line. They average a +7.8 rebound margin, 4.6 steals, 5.8 blocks, and 12.6 turnovers per game. Their opponents average 64.4 points per game on 37.3% shooting from the field, 32.2% shooting from 3-point range, and 69.1% shooting from the foul line.

Keys to the game: For Cal, the first thing they have to do is hold their own inside. USC has tons of athleticism inside and will look to make use of it against Cal. If Andre Kelly, Lars Thiemann, Kuany Kuany, Grant Anticevich, and D.J. Thorpe can keep up with USC’s athleticism, that will be huge as Cal goes about trying to win this game.

Secondly, Cal needs to control the tempo like they did against UCLA. Cal did a really good job of slowing the game down, limiting possessions, and making UCLA play at a pace that they weren’t comfortable with. If Cal can do that again against USC, they just might come away victorious.

Finally, Cal needs to make their layups and short shots. This sounds really fundamental, but Cal missed a few bunnies inside against UCLA that came back to haunt them. Jarred Hyder missed a key layup, Joel Brown got blocked inside, and Ryan Betley got stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey trying to go inside. Cal will not beat USC if they leave too many empty points on the table. They have to convert all the easy looks they get and make the most of every possession they get. As an extension of that, they have to get to the foul line more and knock down their free throws. Something Mark Fox talked about after the UCLA game.

Prediction: Given how well Cal played against UCLA, there’s no reason to think Cal can’t upend the Trojans. If they execute the three keys to the game outlined, they’ll give themselves an excellent shot at winning. That said, Matt Bradley is still expected to be out, and I think USC’s length and athleticism inside will ultimately make the difference. USC 64 Cal 59 is my prediction.