Basketball: No. 19 Texas-USC preview

A few notes and things to pay attention to during tonight's game, airing at 7:30 on FSN and 710 ESPN Radio:

  • This is one of USC's biggest home games of the season -- arguably the biggest. No. 19 Texas comes in with only one loss to its name -- a 2-point loss to Pittsburgh. The Longhorns' best win was an overtime victory over Illinois in the 2K Sports Classic. Jordan Hamilton, a 6-foot-7, 215-pound physical freak out of Compton Dominguez High, has led Texas in scoring six of seven times this year. He'll likely be matched up defensively with USC's Marcus Simmons, who hasn't been at the top of his game thus far this year.

  • USC's had a while to recover from its last contest, last Monday's 12-point loss to TCU in Fort Worth, Tex, and that is a very positive development. The players were clearly tired on their Thanksgiving weekend road trip to Nebraska and TCU, having played eight games in 16 days, and the heavy minutes Coach Kevin O'Neill is playing freshmen guards Maurice Jones and Bryce Jones (no relation) were clearly making a difference and showing up in the tired play. By the way, Mo Jones -- at just a listed 5-foot-7 and 155 pounds -- is eighth in the nation in minutes played, with over 38 per game. He's the only freshmen in the Top 15. On the season, the Joneses have combined to average more than 25 points and nearly seven assists per game.

  • It's been three weeks since forward Alex Stepheson broke his hand in the season opener against UC Irvine. At the time, he said expected the injury to heal in two to three weeks. Expect to see him back to his normal self -- and with the cast on his left hand off -- soon, especially with the Trojans playing only one game in the next 13 days after today. Stepheson's numbers -- 8.3 points and 7.6 rebounds per game -- are very similar to his 8.4/7.2-line of a season ago. But the senior is playing about five more minutes per game this year.

  • And, yes, that's right -- after tonight's game, USC (4-4) has just one Saturday game against Northern Arizona on its schedule before a Dec. 18 date at Lawrence, Kan. Making his USC debut that day will be transfer guard Jio Fontan. O'Neill has talked often about salvaging the first 10 games of the season before getting Fontan back -- in order to do that and to maintain serious hopes of qualifying for the NCAA Tournament, the Trojans need to win at least one of these next two games and probably both of them, too. That's it for now, but check back later, because we'll have an in-depth postgame report on the blog after the game and continued coverage of Trojan hoops this season.