An exciting opening night matchup sees USC face off against Kansas State in Las Vegas; which team will prevail and start the season off strong?
TV schedule: Monday, November 6, 10:00 pm ET. TNT
Arena: T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada
Entrenched at USC for the last decade, Andy Enfield has done a standup job of making this Trojans program a winner in basketball again. They’re fresh off a third consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament, though the last two trips have ended in the first round after a surprise Elite Eight run back in 2021. However, there are high hopes ahead for this year.
Much of the attention will be on the backcourt, with Boogie Ellis back for his fifth collegiate season (his third at USC) and the introduction of Isaiah Collier, one of the top ranked freshman prospects in the entire country. Not only do the Trojans return Kobe Johnson and Joshua Morgan, but added a few other pieces in the offseason, including DJ Rodman from Washington State and a few other freshmen.
The Trojans open the season ranked #21 by the AP Top 25 and sit in that spot in the initial KenPom rankings. The expectations are that USC will be solid on both sides of the ball, though not everything is perfect. They boast a very strong backcourt but need more out of the frontcourt. They have the size and ability, but can they stay consistent and healthy behind two potential All-Pac-12 guards?
Across the court, Kansas State is coming off an incredible first season under head coach Jerome Tang. Led by Markquis Nowell and Keyontae Johnson, who are both gone, the Wildcats were electric in Big 12 play and advanced to the Elite Eight to end the season. A few new faces in town have people buzzing in Manhattan again.
While it’s quite disappointing that Nae’Qwan Tomlin was recently suspended indefinitely, the Wildcats landed two major pieces in the Transfer Portal. Arthur Kaluma was a starter on a strong Creighton squad and greatly strengthens this frontcourt. Meanwhile, Tylor Perry was a significant piece at North Texas and was CUSA’s best player as well. Throw in David N’Guessan at the back end and there are pieces and playmakers here for success.
Though nationally unranked to start the year, the Wildcats come in at 25th on the preseason KenPom rankings, projecting as a tough defensive squad this season. While things look different on this team, Tang believes he still has the pieces of a conference contender and strong squad, with Perry in particular looking like a major add for the Wildcats.
Both of these teams depend on their backcourts, though both also made some significant changes there in the offseason. It’s the first game of the season, and the first of Collier’s collegiate career at USC, so this might come down to who makes initial adjustments better. Whichever team can win the battle on the boards will certainly have an advantage here.
With the raw talent that USC has at their disposal, it’s hard to bet against them, especially since Kansas State won’t have Tomlin in the near future. Losing a piece like that is a major blow just weeks before the season begins, but don’t dig the Wildcats’ grave just yet. Perry and Kaluma are both winners and certainly elevate this team, though we’re leaning towards the new duo of Collier and Ellis to get the job done on opening night.
Prediction: USC 75, Kansas State 70