College Hoops

How will Andy Enfield allocate Vince Iwuchukwu’s minutes vs UCLA?

How will Andy Enfield allocate Vince Iwuchukwu’s minutes vs UCLA?

Given that Vince Iwuchukwu endured an episode of cardiac arrest this past July, he has appropriately been placed on a minutes restriction since being medically cleared to play. One would therefore assume that even under the best of circumstances on Thursday against UCLA, the USC big man won’t play anything more than 20 minutes, probably not more than 15 or 16.

This shapes the central plot point for the biggest game of USC’s season to date.

The fact that Iwuchukwu scored 12 points and grabbed five rebounds in just 14 minutes this past Saturday has understandably increased the excitement and optimism surrounding USC men’s basketball. This is what Andy Enfield hoped the 2023 Trojans would look like. This was the vision. This was the blueprint with a full roster anchored by the elite five-star big man who could defend, rebound, and be a force in the paint who — much like Evan Mobley — relieved pressure on the other four Trojans on the floor.

However: The guy did just come back from a severe health scare. It’s hard to expect a young man to produce with regularity in these circumstances. Hope? Yes. Expect? Not really. Whatever Iwuchukwu can give this team, this season, is gravy. It’s remarkable that he is even playing after such a scary moment last July.

Yet, we can see that USC is a much, much more complete team when Iwuchukwu is on the floor. It’s hard to see USC beating UCLA if Iwuchukwu doesn’t play high-impact minutes when he is in the game.

Can USC beat UCLA without Iwuchukwu doing something significant? That’s one key question for Thursday in the Galen Center.

The other big question: How will Enfield allocate Iwuchukwu’s minutes? He might be limited to just 15-20 minutes. Which game segments will Iwuchukwu play?

Keep in mind that USC lost by two points to UCLA on a late-game 3-pointer from Jaylen Clark on Jan. 5 in Pauley Pavilion. USC couldn’t grab a defensive rebound. UCLA got the ball and kicked it out to Clark, who got a second chance at a go-ahead triple and made it.

If Enfield is willing to put Iwuchukwu in his closing lineup, USC might be able to get the big rebound and the big defensive stop it failed to get three weeks ago.

This presumes that the game will be close enough at that point to be decided on one or two possessions.

All eyes will be on Vince Iwuchukwu when USC hosts UCLA on Thursday in the Galen Center.

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