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Sitting in fifth has its pitfalls

Times Staff Writer

Some spring break. There will be practices, film sessions and even a history lesson for USC basketball players this week.

Instructor Tim Floyd will teach a mandatory course on NCAA tournament upsets, specifically those involving 12th-seeded teams that have knocked off fifth-seeded teams.

“Five-12 has always been one of the historical upset brackets, and we’ll make sure our players are aware of that,” said Floyd, whose fifth-seeded Trojans (23-11) will play 12th-seeded Arkansas (21-13) in an East Regional first-round game Friday in Spokane, Wash.

No. 12 seeds have 32 victories over No. 5 seeds -- a success rate of 29.6% -- since the NCAA began seeding teams in 1979. It has happened at least once every year since 1983 with the exception of 1988 and 2000, and it happened twice last season, with Texas A&M; defeating Syracuse and Montana knocking off Nevada.

“I’m going to do whatever I can to make sure we don’t fall into those statistics,” junior guard Gabe Pruitt said. “We have to lay it on the line come Friday.”

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Floyd averted such an upset in 1996, when his fifth-seeded Iowa State Cyclones defeated 12th-seeded California, 74-64, in the first round before losing to Utah two days later.

Floyd compiled a 4-5 record in NCAA tournament games with New Orleans and Iowa State, going 3-2 in the first round. In his final postseason appearance before leaving for the Chicago Bulls, Floyd guided Iowa State to the Sweet 16 in 1997 before losing to UCLA, 74-73, in overtime.

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If the comparisons hold up, USC could be one and done.

After the Trojans watched film of Arkansas on Monday, USC sophomore forward Keith Wilkinson said Razorbacks freshman guard Patrick Beverly reminded him of Oregon’s Aaron Brooks, who averaged 20.6 points against USC this season.

“He can slash, he can shoot,” Wilkinson said of Beverly, who averages a team-leading 13.8 points. “He got freshman of the year in the SEC, so that tells a lot about him.”

Wilkinson said 7-foot junior center Steven Hill was comparable to Stanford’s Brook and Robin Lopez.

“He blocks a lot of shots in the middle of the key,” Wilkinson said of Hill, who averages 6.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.9 blocks. “We have to play smart and adjust to him.”

Wilkinson, whose playing time has fluctuated wildly based on matchups, could be a factor against Arkansas because the Razorbacks start three players 6-6 or taller and typically bring 6-10 forward Darian Townes off the bench.

“They usually have two big guys in there at all times, and they’re a really good defensive rebounding team,” Wilkinson said. “We have to find a way to combat that.”

Wilkinson said he was impressed after watching Arkansas race to a big early lead over Alabama on the road and then hold on for a 63-57 win on Jan. 27.

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The Trojans will resume practice today after consecutive days off Sunday and Monday. “I think legs are important this time of year,” Floyd said. ... USC could tie the school record for victories in a season with a triumph over Arkansas. The Trojans won 24 games during the 1970-71, 1973-74, 1991-92 and 2000-01 seasons. ... USC is ranked No. 23 in the Associated Press poll and No. 25 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches’ poll.

ben.bolch@latimes.com


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