USC-Washington: The Pac-10 opener

A few notes and things to pay attention to during tonight's 7:30 p.m. game:

  • Washington was widely pronounced as the preseason favorite to win the Pac-10, but the Huskies didn't exactly back it up in preseason play with losses to Kentucky, Michigan State and Texas A&M. Still, the Lorenzo Romar-coached Huskies will present one of the biggest threats of any to the Trojans this season. They are probably the deepest team in the conference, and their starting lineup is more than a bit reminiscent of a deeper, more-experienced USC team -- although perhaps not as top-heavy, which could help USC if stars Jio Fontan and Nikola Vucevic play well tonight. Washington forwards Matthew Bryan-Amaning and Justin Holiday, both seniors, have added almost a combined 12 points to their scoring average this season. That's an impressive feat for four-year players in one program, and Bryan-Amaning in particular has been a great weapon for Romar this season.

  • USC needs to get a big game from Vucevic to win this one. Struggling of late, he must help facilitate the Trojans' offensive sets when Fontan, Donte Smith and Maurice Jones are bogged down by Washington's many guards. He must also resist the urge to shoot threes and instead work inside, where the Huskies were very vulnerable last season. Of course, Romar signed junior-college transfer Aziz N'Diaye, a 7-footer, precisely for this reason, but N'Diaye is inexperienced and still vunerable to Vucevic's polished post moves. USC forward Alex Stepheson vs. Bryan-Amaning will be a great matchup.

  • The player to watch for Washington is 5-foot-9 junior guard Isaiah Thomas, who's averaging 15.8 points, 3.9 assists and 3.8 rebounds for the Huskies. He plays off the ball, with 6-3 sophomore Abdul Gaddy holding down the point duties. Thomas struggled mightily in two games against the Trojans last season, averaging 9.5 points as the Huskies lost both times. Venoy Overton, a senior guard, was Washington's top scorer in USC's 87-61 win over the Huskies at the Galen Center last January. But Overton is having his worst season since his freshman year and averaging fewer than six points. Swingmen C.J. Wilcox and Scott Suggs have taken some of his minutes and have both been able to produce the occasional big game this season -- Suggs scored 15 against USF last week and Wilcox 20 against Long Beach State last month. Sound like a lot of different players for the Huskies? It is. Romar has a 10-man rotation he uses religiously.

The pick? USC, in a close one, with both teams scoring under 70 points. We'll have a postgame report on the blog.