USC Basketball: Dancing Towards March?


USC (16-12, 8-7) upset Pac-10 leader No. 10 Arizona (23-5, 12-3) Thursday night at Galen Center to win three games in a row for the first time this season. Kevin O’Neill switched up the lineup before heading to the Bay Area, and the different look has changed the way USC has played. In the past three contests, the offense has been playing much better and getting more quality shots. Donte Smith’s presence as a starter has spread out defense to allow more freedom for Vucevic and Stepheson inside and allowed shooters to spot up on the 3-point line as the zone collapses towards the middle. Furthermore, Maurice Jones is shooting better because his legs are fresh coming off of the bench instead of having to log heavy minutes.

After beating UCLA at Galen, USC went into a tailspin. Freshman guard Bryce Jones transferred out, and the Trojans preceded to lose 6 of 9 before heading to the Bay Area. As USC trekked north, it was hard for Trojan fans to have much faith in the team. They were 2-7 on the road and hadn’t swept Cal and Stanford in the Bay Area in 19 years. But something changed on that trip. USC showed up in Berkeley and played on of their most complete halves to take a 33-22 lead. Cal came storming back, but USC held them off to win 78-75 and score an impressive road win. On Saturday, they beat the trend of playing poorly on the second leg of their road trips and dominated Stanford.

The win over Arizona was especially amazing. The No. 10 team visited Galen, and USC used staunch defense to beat the Wildcats. Arizona was held 20 points below its season average, and standout Derrick Williams tallied just 8 points. The Trojans were awful from beyond the arc; they only made one of their ten attempts. However, they were extremely aggressive. They charged into the teeth of the defense and got to the free throw line 27 times, converting 23 of them. USC missed several open shots throughout the course of the game and didn’t play a perfect game, but they still managed to win. When you can bring your A- game and beat the No. 10 team in the country, that speaks volumes about the talent on the squad. The depth may be thing, but the breadth is in place.

Admittedly, USC has been anything but consistent throughout the 2010-2011 season. They could show up Saturday, lay an egg, and spoil the new found momentum. Yet, there is reason to believe in this squad. There is a new confidence and swag about this team throughout the past three games that wasn’t present in the first 24. If there is ever a time to peak in college basketball, it is in late February and into March when the postseason mentality of do-or-die reigns supreme.

Despite the recent upswing, its hard to look past the awful losses on the resume. Losing to Rider, Bradley, TCU, Oregon State, and Oregon is inexcusable. Furthermore, their RPI is 89, which is not anywhere near the level it needs to be for an at-large berth. Most pundits do not even have USC on their at-large radar. If USC wins out, an unlikely scenario, they would stand at 19-12 and 11-7 heading in the Pac-10 Tournament. A run to the finals would make them 21-13 come Selection Sunday. A year ago, a 22-11 Arizona State team that went 12-6 in conference did not receive a bid. The bubble was probably filled with better teams last year, but the Pac-10 may have a worse reputation nationally in 2011 than it did in 2010. The new brand of basketball is exciting to watch and gives USC fans hope, but the fact of the matter is they will note make it to the NCAA Tournament unless they are crowned champions of the Pac-10 Tournament.