Make Your Case: USC TrojansPosted by jstevrtc on March 11th, 2011
It’s back. Around this time of year we like to yield the soapbox to representatives of bubble teams and give them the opportunity to explain to the hooping nation why their team should be granted admission into the NCAA Tournament. We encourage them to be as irrational and nonpartisan as they want. As always, feel free to tell us how you think they did in the comments section. If you’d like to make the case for your school, send us an e-mail at JStevRTC@gmail.com and we’ll hear your preliminary arguments.
I find the question of whether USC is deserving of an NCAA tournament at-large bid to be self-evident. Of course, our Trojans do!
After all, they don’t always get a chance to play past the regular season. Last year, self-imposed sanctions prevented ‘SC from participating in the Pac-10 tournament and possibly earning an at-large bid. Not that a team composed of players such as Mike Gerrity and Dwight Lewis (no offense) would have earned one anyway, but still. They never even had a chance (holding back tears). And heck, our football team has been barred from postseason participation for two years.
So, obviously, we’re deserving of a bid to the Big Dance, because well, we don’t always get a chance to play into March. Sometimes the basketball program isn’t eligible, and other times, it just isn’t good enough (see: Henry Bibby-coached teams).
But this current USC hoops team is playing surprisingly well late in the season. A year ago, the Trojans, plagued by similar depth issues, dropped the final five games of the season, finishing just 16-14 overall after once appearing in contention for the conference title. Presently, Kevin O’Neill’s group has won six out of its last seven games, including yesterday’s 14-point victory over California in the quarterfinals of the Pac-10 tournament.
And those wins have come against teams such as Cal, No. 15 Arizona and Washington — two of which might very well snag bids to the NCAA tournament. But if you’re looking for reasons why the Trojans should be included in the field of 68, it’s quite simple: defense. Currently, USC leads the Pac-10 in points allowed per game with 63.3 and their defensive field goal percentage ranks amongst the best nationally. At the very least, despite some glaring holes on their resume, and even moreso on its roster, strong defensive play has kept this group competitive despite circumstances. Some of the rankings out there have begun to take notice. Currently, according to the Pomeroy rankings, USC ranks 39th nationally with an .8713 rating. In the RPI, USC is 67th. And in Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology, they’re among the first four out and dangerously close to actually earning an at-large bid –- a win over Arizona Friday night would go a long way toward that becoming a reality.
Thus far, the knock against USC has been its bad losses. In November, it lost to Rider at home by 20 points, and in conference play the Trojans went 1-4 against the Oregon schools. But at least with Rider, it’s important to note that the loss a) came before Jio Fontan’s arrival, and b) was the team’s third game in five days –- a remarkably compact schedule for a young team using just seven players at the time. Early in the season, USC was forced to play eight games in 17 days without Fontan, which potentially explains the losses to Rider and TCU.
But when they play up to their capability, when they’re rested, they’re as good as just about any team in the country. They’ve beaten tournament teams in nonconference play — Tennessee and Texas, nearly Kansas — and remain the only team in the Pac-10 to have beaten Arizona, UCLA and Washington.
With a seven-man rotation, they’re bound to have off nights, but when things click (it’s happened 19 times thus far), they’re a potential bracket nightmare.