After achieving a first round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament, USC basketball went 1-1 in the tourney. They won their second-round contest against Washington, but dropped their semi-final round against UCLA. The play was less than ideal all tournament long, even in the win.
USC had a season-high 23 turnovers against the Huskies. Protecting the basketball was one of the top focuses of the game against Washington, and they couldn't get it done. As a result, the team almost lost to a poor UW basketball squad. They did win, however, due to the defense that they played themselves.
They held the Huskies to 30.8% shooting from the field. The No. 1 reason why USC had 25 wins in the regular season was because they held 20 out of their 31 opponents to under 40% from the field. They allowed opponents to 38.9% shooting for the whole season, which was 14th in the nation.
It's also why SC was able to win this game despite being so sloppy with the ball on offense. Against UCLA, however, despite protecting the ball (only nine turnovers), their defense let up. They allowed 48.9% of UCLA's shots to drop. It goes to show that USC needs to play elite defense in every single game of the NCAA tournament if they want to win.
USC basketball will go nowhere in the NCAA Tournament if they don't hold their opponents to under 40% from the field.
We already knew this about USC basketball to an extent, as in their two-game losing streak to end the season, they dropped from sixth nationally in field goal percentage allowed to 14th. It was alarming that they dropped that far when they had back-to-back games against top 17 teams.
It didn't necessarily suggest that the Trojans were tournament ready. The Pac-12 Tournament also didn't suggest that they're necessarily tournament ready. That being said, it looked similar when they were coming into the NCAA Tournament last year and they went to the Elite Eight.
Anything can happen come March, but if SC wants to assure they have a shot to go on a deep run, they have to go back to their roots as a team that thrives off of forcing teams to compete in slug fests with them. If they can dominate defensively, they then give first-team All-Pac 12 selections Isaiah Mobley and Drew Peterson the chance to take over games if need be. Being able to utilize that level of talent to close games should be effective, but they won't be in that position if they don't play their true brand of defense.