After starting off the season with a 3-0 record, USC will get its first test on the road against the University of Nevada. The Trojans’ three victories have all come in games against teams outside the Power 5 conferences. Saturday night’s tilt with the Wolf Pack will not only be the first road game for the Trojans, but also the first game where they are not favored by double-digits.
Last season, the Wolf Pack defeated the Trojans 73-61 en route to a first-place finish in the Mountain West Conference. This year’s Wolf Pack team is different; all five of their starters graduated, including their top three scorers. Twin brothers Cody and Caleb Martin are now in the NBA with the Charlotte Hornets, and forward Jordan Caroline is with the Lakers’ G-League affiliate. Nevada also swapped head coaches, replacing Eric Musselman with former UCLA coach Steve Alford.
This year’s Nevada team may not have the depth and talent of last years’ squad, but it will pose a tough test for the Trojans. Nevada enters the game with a 2-1 record; its one loss came against the formidable Utah Utes. USC’s defense will have its hands full with guard Lindsey Drew, who leads the Wolf Pack in points, rebounds and assists per game. His backcourt partner, Jazz Johnson, is dynamic offensively--a crafty player capable of creating space for a shot at any spot on the floor.
“They can score it, they can pass it, they can defend and they are tough...we know that this is probably one of the best backcourts we’re going to see, with that 3 guard combination, of any team on our schedule,” head coach Andy Enfield said.
With three players in the lineup that are at least six-foot-nine, USC’s size should create problems for the Wolf Pack. Freshman forward Onyeka Okongwu, currently averaging 17.3 points and 10.3 rebounds per game, will look to build on his strong start.
The Trojans will also have to shake off their inexperience, with six freshmen on the team playing their first-ever college road game. Senior guard Jonah Mathews and senior forward Nick Rakocevic, who both eclipsed 1,000 total points during Tuesday’s game, are ready to lead the younger Trojans into a hostile environment.
“It’s a game--another game,” Mathews said. “It’s gonna be loud, it’s gonna be rowdy. But at the end of the day, we’re playing basketball. So don’t get too into the fans. Don’t get too high or too low, just play your game.”
While the Trojans have started the season undefeated, their play has not been without flaws. They won against lesser opponents without having a complete game on both ends of the floor. Coach Enfield pointed to turnovers being a problem, as the team is giving the ball away 16 times per game. To beat the Wolf Pack, the Trojans will have to eliminate its turnover issues in addition to its struggles shooting from the free throw and three-point line. USC’s early-season road test against a high caliber opponent serves as a good barometer for the Trojans’ potential this year.