In truth, USC probably should’ve been being taken seriously even before its 103-101 four-overtime thriller over Arizona yesterday, but you can be sure the Trojans are now.
Even before earning what is a signature win over the Wildcats-at least for the time being; who knows how long that stands in this year’s ultra-competitive Pac-12, where even a flagbearer program like Arizona could win 15 games or eight-USC already had some quality notches on its belt during non-conference play. The Trojans’ resume already was good, and now it certainly looks even better.
USC defeated Monmouth in its season opener before later losing to the Hawks in a rematch in the AdvoCare Invitational. The Trojans also knocked off a Wichita State team that has been left for dead by many but was hammered with injuries early this year, still earned some quality wins of its own (including a rout of SC’s Pac-12 foe Utah) and-based on its 83-58 blowout of Southern Illinois yesterday, is still the clear team to beat in the Missouri Valley. It’s a win that should only continue to grow in stature. There also were wins over RPI top 100 teams Arizona State, UC Santa Barbara and Yale, and one of its three losses was against Xavier, the No. 1 team in the RPI.
There’s a fair argument that USC was underrated even before its win Saturday, in which Elijah Stewart scored 27 points off the bench while the starters were balanced in true Trojans fashion. Four starters-Julian Jacobs, Jordan McLaughlin, Nicola Jovanovic and Bennie Boatwright– scored between 15 and 18 points, fitting for a team that has five players (those four plus Katin Reinhardt) averaging between 12.1 and 12.9 points per game. Anyway, the Pac-12 is going to provide more than enough opportunities for top 50 and top 100 wins, so there’s really no reason to fret over power ratings or schedule strength numbers; the Trojans merely have to concern themselves with winning games.
USC is for real, at least as a capable contender to cause considerable trouble in the Pac-12. The bigger question is whether it can sustain its glossy 14-3 record.
The mystery in that query is that early on the Pac-12 is looking nigh impossible to handicap. Teams expected to be near the top-Arizona, California, Utah-are looking vulnerable, while others expected lower like USC, Stanford and Washington (your current leader in sole possession of first at 3-0) are at the top. Then there is UCLA, which looks capable of just about anything on any given day, plus an Arizona State team that is 0-3 but almost certainly will cause some problems for someone, and soon.
The task for USC sounds simple-just stay at least around .500 in conference play, and the Trojans should make their first NCAA tourney since being bounced as VCU’s first victim on its famous run in 2011. At this point, though, the margin for error looks thin-for just about everyone in the Pac-12. It’s a league with no great teams but a ton of very good ones, which is setting up for a memorable conference season.
- Among the individual performances of the day, the highlight was an incredible one by Cameron Morse of Youngstown State, who scored a career-high 44 in the Penguins’ 103-93 win over a Wisconsin-Green Bay team that was previously undefeated in the Horizon League. Also: Cal State-Fullerton guard Tre Coggins scored 41 (including 17 of 17 from the free throw line) in the Titans’ 85-75 loss to Cal State-Northridge; Idaho State guard Ethan Telfair-the brother of former NBA guard Sebastian Telfair-lit up North Dakota for 37, but the Bengals fell 84-76, and Marshall’s James Kelly racked up 33 points and 15 boards in the Thundering Herd’s 99-81 win over Florida International. Also, Washington’s Andrew Andrews notched 29 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists as the Huskies outlasted rival Washington State 99-95 in overtime, and what a 1-2 punch Gonzaga still has in Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis. Wiltjer scored 32, while Sabonis piled up 28 points, 17 rebounds, four assists, three steals and three blocks in the Bulldogs’ 85-74 win over Portland.
- The game of the day is at Hinkle Fieldhouse, where Butler has a golden opportunity to get back into the Big East race if it can beat Villanova (7:30 p.m., FS1).
- A month ago, Ohio State’s game at Indiana (1:30 p.m., CBS) might’ve looked like a coronation for the Hoosiers, but with the Buckeyes’ improvement and the Hoosiers’ loss of James Blackmon, this could be one of the most competitive games of the day.
- NBC Sports Network features an Atlantic 10 tripleheader. Start with Rhode Island at Saint Joseph’s (Noon), then chase that with Richmond at Fordham (2 p.m.) and VCU at Saint Louis (4 p.m.).
- Valparaiso has the second leg of a very tough road trip in the Horizon League when it goes to improving Detroit.
- Undefeated SMU has a tricky one at home, as Central Florida is getting better and isn’t a gimmie (4 p.m., ESPNU).
- Good old school Tobacco Road ACC matchup with N.C. State at Wake Forest (8 p.m., ESPNU). Also Louisville is at Clemson, no layup for the Cardinals against a team that has recent wins over Florida State and Syracuse.
- Finally, wrap up the day with another Pac-12 war as Stanford heads up the coast to take on Oregon (10 p.m., ESPNU).
Have an outstanding Sunday.