TrojanSports – Trojans downplay perception of Pac-12 vs. Big Ten ahead of tournament opening

USC basketball coach Andy Enfield has often pointed out – or flippantly – the fact that much of the country is already asleep when many Trojan games start late on the West Coast.

Friday’s challenge is a little different – he’ll need to make sure his own team is on full alert as the 10th-ranked Trojans open the NCAA tournament, which starts at 9:15 a.m. PT (12:15 p.m. local time) against the No. 7 from the state of Michigan is set in Columbus, Ohio (on CBS).

“I told our players there are no excuses. It may feel like 9am, but we’re in March Madness. You have to prepare to play mentally and compete at the highest level,” Enfield said Thursday.

To adjust to the eastern time zone, USC (22-10) arrived in Columbus on Tuesday – three days before the game.

“We got out of here on Tuesday, which was very important for us. We got out a few days earlier than usual for a trip just to adjust and prepare. We know how important it is for that to have experience from the last year with a few guys on the team,” said veteran guard Drew Peterson, referring to USC’s tournament trip to Greenville, SC last year. “…I think we are first game on friday so happy to get this showcase slot.”

The natural follow-up question for Enfield was about USC’s upcoming move to the Big Ten in two seasons, when such travel and tip time will be standard.

“Actually, when we landed in Columbus Tuesday night, someone reminded us that this is going to be the normal voyage,” Enfield admitted. “It’s a longer flight, colder weather, but we haven’t really thought about that.”

There were two overarching issues the media in Columbus Enfield, Peterson and senior guard Boogie Ellis wanted to ask about Thursday — the time zone effects and the perception that the Pac-12 and Big Ten, a la Michigan State (19-12), were dramatic play different styles of basketball.

Enfield pushed that narrative back.

“I don’t know what style the Big Ten play. I think it’s just a basketball game when you get on the court,” he said. “…We don’t really care what other styles are perceived in other conferences. We really only care about USC and what we have to do to win games. I think the players change every year, so changes As your play style changes, we’re at least trying to play to our strengths, so this year our play style is different than last year, previous years with some really good big men. …

“I suppose Michigan State will try to push the ball, they will try to shoot 3s early in alternation because they have great shooters and will play their style just like us.”

In fact, the Spartans may not be the prime example of the rough-and-tumble Big Ten perception.

“We’ve seen a lot of films about her. They are a great shooting team. We just have to play our game, not really change anything, just adjust to taking away the 3-point shots,” Ellis said. “They play similarly, at a fast pace, a little bit like Arizona, but they have more guard play, a few bigs.”

Peterson said, “We know the physical condition of the Big Ten. We know that’s kind of their thing and a little bit slower, but Michigan State is actually relatively fast-paced compared to the usual Big Ten teams.”

Michigan State is led by speedy senior guard Tyson Walker, who is instrumental in driving that pace, averaging 14.6 points per game and shooting 42.3 percent from 3-point range (55 of 130).

“Tyson Walker is an elite scorer. He can shoot from long range, he’s very fast and just a really good player…but they have a lot of other good players to complement what he’s doing,” Enfield said.

Veteran forward Joey Hauser is the Spartans’ tallest starter at 6ft 9 and averages 14.2 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, but he also does a lot of his work from perimeter — shooting a team-best 45.6 Percent 3 point range (68 out of 149).

Guards AJ Hoggard (12.5 PPG), Jaden Akins (9.6) and 6ft 8 forward Malik Hall (9.2) give the Spartans a well-balanced offensive tackle.

Michigan State’s limited size is a positive for USC, who may again be without 7-foot-1 forward Vince Iwuchukwu as he continues to struggle with a back injury.

“Vince is day by day. He had this back problem. We’re hopeful. He can play or not – we’ll probably know in the morning when he wakes up,” Enfield said.

Ultimately, as Enfield noted, his team is playing its best in a four-guard lineup led by Ellis, who is averaging 18 points per game and has ended his senior season on a hot track up to this point — averaging 24.3 PPG Overs the last seven competitions.

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo emphasized that containing Ellis is key for the Spartans.

“I’m telling you, they have a guard that’s as good as any guard we’ve faced in Boogie Ellis this year,” Izzo said. “And Peterson is another who is a huge mismatch at 6-9, maybe one of the better passers I’ve seen. So we have to contain Ellis and not many people have done that. That’s why he’s a first-team All-Pac-12. That’s why he helped them do what they do. We’ll see what we can throw at them.

Watch videos of Andy Enfield and Drew Peterson discussing the NCAA tournament matchup before heading to Columbus:

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