USC-Washington State: As close to a must-win as it gets in December

A few notes and things to pay attention to during today's 3 p.m. game:

  • This one's interesting. Washington was supposed to be the class of the Pac-10, and USC clearly went blow-for-blow with the Huskies in a 73-67 overtime loss Wednesday. Washington State was predicted to be more on the Trojans' level at the start of the season but had the best preseason of any Pac-10 team and was gaining traction as the potential Pac-10 team to beat. Then UCLA beat the Cougars fairly handily, and now both USC and WSU are in dire need of a win to set themselves up at .500 after the first conference weekend. The goal for USC just last week was to win every Pac-10 home game, according to junior guard Jio Fontan. Now it's to win every remaining Pac-10 home game. But with six (and potentially seven) losses on the Trojans' resume already, this is as close to a must-win as it gets this early in the season.

  • The key for USC is simple. Fontan and Nikola Vucevic have not both played well in one game since Fontan became eligible against Kansas nearly two weeks ago. Vucevic was beastly against Washington; Fontan played great against Lehigh and solid in a road win at Tennessee. The two need to work well together and well incorporating the rest of the team. It's a small wonder the Trojans managed to score 67 points against Washington (albeit with an extra five minutes) given how bad their offense was. Not a single player other than Vucevic shot better than 3-of-7 from the field, and Kevin O'Neill's sets seemed ineffective within seconds of calling them. Assuming the rest of the Trojans rebound naturally, an effective Vucevic-Fontan tandem should do the trick today.

  • The players to watch for the Cougars: Klay Thompson and Faisal Aden. Thompson, a junior, is averaging almost 23 points per game this season and hasn't scored fewer than 15 points in WSU's 13 games. He ripped the Trojans up for 20 points in a seven-point win in Los Angeles last January but later had his worst game as a collegian at home against the Trojans in February, scoring two points on 0-for-12 shooting. It'll be USC defensive specialist Marcus Simmons guarding him at the tipoff Friday and for as much of the game as Simmons' anemic offense will allow. Aden, a junior-college transfer in his first year with the Cougars, is much more of an unknown than Thompson. But his numbers have been great, with the 6-foot-4, 185-pound guard shooting better than 50 percent from the field and averaging 16-plus points per game.

  • Of course, Washington State also has sophomore point guard Reggie Moore, who O'Neill was very worried about preparing for last season and lavished praise upon after playing against him. With a potent three-guard attack, the Cougars are similar to Washington and will present height problems back there for the Trojans. But WSU is also quite top-heavy -- Thompson and Aden combine for more than half of Coach Ken Bone's team's scoring. DeAngelo Casto is a solid defensive presence in the frontcourt and can present problems for Vucevic and Alex Stepheson.

The pick? USC by seven or so. We'll have a postgame report on the blog.