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USC vs #11 Gonzaga Preview

Time to head over to every Zag’s second favorite place, Las Vegas.

NCAA Basketball: Rady Children’s Invitational-Seton Hall at Southern California Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a battle of the backcourts in the Sin City. Can Ryan Nembhard and Nolan Hickman hold USC’s duo of Isaiah Collier (potential #1 2024 NBA Draft pick) and Boogie Ellis (potential 2024 late first, early second round pick) in place? Besides trying (and the Gonzaga bigs failing in the 2nd half) to slow down Zach Edey of Purdue, it’s the toughest test on the young season with this elite scoring duo standing in Gonzaga’s way. I haven’t even mentioned Kobe Johnson (14.2 PPG on 46.2 FG% and 39.1 3P%, 4.8 RPG, 3.0 APG, 3.0 SPG, 1.2 BPG) who seems to get lost in the limelight of all the talented guards available to Andy Enfield.

The Trojans are loaded on all ends of the floor. Joshua Morgan is the anchor of the defense with his 5.6 RPG and 2.9 BPG. The Zags should still look to attack him as much as possible and get him in foul trouble. With him on the bench, the USC’s defensive wall is weakened with their slight lack of frontcourt depth. The Gonzaga giants in Anton Watson, Graham Ike, Braden Huff, Ben Gregg should expose this Achilles heel.

In other news surrounding the Trojans, I want to give a major S/O to Bronny James. It was reported by a family spokesperson that he has been cleared to make a full return to basketball after recovering from a cardiac arrest in late July. He will have a final evaluation with USC staff this week, resume practice next week and return to games soon after. That means he still won’t be available to play against Gonzaga tomorrow but still fantastic news going forward for the young star.

USC’s record -

5-2 (W vs Kansas State, W vs Bakersfield, L vs UC Irvine, W vs Brown, W vs Seton Hall, L vs Oklahoma, W vs Eastern Washington)

Key stats -

79.3 PPG

68.7 points allowed

46.6 FG%

38.5 3P%

76.5 FT%

37.4 RPG

14.9 APG

6.4 SPG

5.9 BPG

13.6 TO

KenPom rankings -

#31 overall

113.3 adjusted offensive efficiency (#39)

95.3 adjusted defensive efficiency (#26)

Key players to watch for -

Isaiah Collier (freshman, guard) - 17.7 PPG on 53.9 FG% and 42.1 3P%, 4.3 APG, 2.9 RPG, 1.1 SPG

Currently, he’s the most talented freshman and one of the best play-makers in college basketball. Collier is really thick but sturdy for his position and loves to attack downhill. He plays mostly at the rim but isn’t afraid to stretch his offense out if the defense gives him the opportunity.

Mark Few looks to focus in on him as he is the true catalyst that makes this USC offense go. Lots of double teams and defensive pressure will be thrown at him from many different Zags all night long.

Boogie Ellis (senior, guard) - 21.5 PPG on 47.7 FG% and 48.0 3P%, 4.0 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.5 SPG

One of the more consistent shot-makers in the college game. Ellis loves to create his own shot around the perimeter, whether that be through the catch-and-shoot or off the dribble. He has quick yet slick ball-handling skills that gives him that space to operate. If Boogie sees it go through the hoop a couple times to start this game, it’s going to be hard to cool him off.

The Legends of Basketball Las Vegas Invitational at the MGM Grand Garden Arena is a doubleheader with Washington facing #20 Colorado State in the opener at 4 PM PT on CBSSN. Then comes the fun part of the event as Gonzaga takes on USC at 7 PM PT on ESPN. Crack open a cold one (or a few) cause it should be a fun Saturday night.

Arden Cravalho is a Gonzaga University graduate from the Bay Area... Follow him on Twitter @a_cravalho