I was able to use the Synergy software, which is what college coaches across the country use, in order to watch some USC-Upstate games from last year. Here are some of the things I noticed:
Bigs hedge well. This was evident from the beginning. SLU has been known to run pick-and-rolls in the past, and Upstate does a very nice job defensively against them. Their bigs were very mobile, which made this task even more effective.
Overplay on the perimeter. Not only does USC have some intense on-ball defense, but they get after it in "one-pass-away" situations. In some cases, they're so overcommitted that they have their back to the ball. This makes it very difficult to work things through the wings, but also gives the offense several opportunities.
Full court press off made baskets. It is no surprise that a quick and tough defensive squad gets after it for all 94 feet when they score the basketball. The press is often only man-to-man, and not doesn't have a trapping component. Mike McCall, Jordair Jett, and Keith Carter shouldn't have any issues with it, but it could tire them out.
Here are a couple points of emphasis for SLU based on the previous thoughts:
Backcuts to rim and cross-court three-pointers are open. Like I said, USC Upstate is far too aggressive for my liking on the defensive end. SLU should be wise about the significant overplay on the wing and find easy routes to the basket for simple layups. They'll be there tomorrow night, but we'll see if the Billikens' guards can find them.
Attack Torrey Craig defensively.There's absolutely no doubt that Craig is one of the best players in the Atlantic Sun Conference. At six-foot-six, 215-pounds, his offensive skills are far superior compared to those in his league. I wasn't impressed, however, with his defensive abilities. He is a bit sluggish and lazy. I had the impression that he was simply waiting for his team to get the ball back and play offense. If the Bills take it to him, not only do they have the potential to get him in foul trouble, but also he'll have to expend a lot of energy in doing so.
Beat the full-court press. SLU has two quality, veteran guards in McCall and Jett. The Billikens can maneuver past the first on-ball defender, and will then have several opportunities to look 5-on-4. While SLU historically likes to slow down the pace, don't be surprised to see a number of transition chances as the Bills will be able to get out and run.
Overall Thoughts The strength of USC Upstate is in their forward and wing positions. SLU, on the other hand, has some quality guards and wings. This will provide a really fun atmosphere and exciting game. Upstate doesn't rebound well offensively, which is something that SLU can take advantage of. The Billikens' big men will be thrown into the fire with Brian Conklin no longer in the mix, and that will certainly assist. Upstate is a marginally "average" squad in the halfcourt, averaging just 0.833 points per possession in 2011-12. By comparison, SLU averaged an excellent 0.913 PPP a year ago. With both teams bringing most of their respective players back, these numbers should stay fairly accurate throughout the course of the season.
Prediction: SLU by 14. The Bills are superior from a talent standpoint, and they're a veteran ballclub at home. That's usually a recipe for success. Look for SLU to open the 2012-13 campaign with a "W" at Chaifetz Arena.