USC was more than just snubbed. USC was sucker punched.
This isn't March Madness, this is March lunacy.
The Trojans were not among the 68 teams selected to compete in the NCAA men's basketball tournament, a dishonorable decision that flipped the tournament's signature song on its head.
This was one shiner of a moment.
The Trojans finished second in the Pac-12 Conference regular season, finished second in the conference tournament, and were 23-11 with six wins in their last eight games.
But there was nowhere to fit them in a 68-team field?
"We were in shock,'' coach Andy Enfield said.
The Trojans were ranked 34th nationally in RPI with a 37th-ranked strength of schedule.
But the selection committee couldn't find a way to put them in the top 68?
"I don't think anyone saw this coming,'' Enfield said.
Arizona State finished ninth in the Pac-12, lost in the first round of the conference tournament, and dropped five of its last six games.
Yet, the Sun Devils are dancing and the Trojans are not?
"I just know that we deserve to be in the tournament,'' Enfield said.
Again, USC has become gum on the shoe of an NCAA cartel that, while notorious for not caring about its athletes, now apparently no longer even watches their games.
There were 68 teams selected, and, as anybody who has watched the Trojans in recent weeks could attest, USC would beat a bunch of them.
The Trojans had the best RPI of any major-conference team that did not get in the tournament. Even without injured star Bennie Boatwright, this was a veteran club led by a great pressure point guard in Jordan McLaughlin. It won its first two conference tournament games by an average of 16.5 points and then played champion Arizona tough through most of a loss in the final. This team barely missed the regional round a year ago and would have been a serious threat to win at least a couple of games this time.
"We don't understand it,'' Enfield said.
There is a reason, but it makes no common or calendar sense. The Trojans are being penalized in March for things that happened in November and December.
USC was beaten out by an Arizona State team that, while finishing in a heap, began the season in a sprint with 12 straight victories. USC lost four of its first dozen games and didn't find its stride until the conference season. It seems like, amazingly, USC didn't lose this bid Sunday — it lost it in December.
Bruce Rasmussen, the Creighton athletic director who is chairman of the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee, acknowledged on national TV that Arizona State essentially qualified for early acceptance.
"They had a couple of outstanding wins early,'' he said when asked why the Sun Devils punked the Trojans.
He's talking about their wins in late November and early December against eventual tournament top seeds Xavier and Kansas, but seriously? No sport plays more meaningless games early than college basketball. No sport witnesses teams grow and change more than college basketball.
The athletes are teenagers and young adults, and as such, they're changing, fast, maturing and slipping and evolving. Any coach will acknowledge that, for better or worse, a March college basketball team doesn't resemble a November team.
But, fine, you want to talk early-season wins? In November, USC beat eventual Big West Conference tournament champion Cal State Fullerton by 42 points. That didn't count?
"If all that matters is the quality of your best win or two on your schedule, then we should set the field in December after the out-of-conference is complete,'' Enfield said. "It basically discredited our entire league schedule.''
There could be another factor involved here. The NCAA is so institutionally corrupt, one cannot discount the chance that officials used the tournament selections to penalize the Trojans for alleged involvement in the college basketball bribery and corruption case. Two other bubble teams whose hopes were burst — Louisville and Oklahoma State — were also linked to the FBI's investigation into the situation.
Could the NCAA be so afraid of eventually vacating more tournament wins that it chose to rid its dance of the vulnerable bubble teams without due process? That would be so wrong. That would also be so NCAA.
With USC firing assistant coach Tony Bland and suspending young star De'Anthony Melton over their alleged connections to the probe, and with players Chimezie Metu and Boatwright being mentioned in notes the FBI seized, the Trojans have had their name dragged through the mud of this mess.
It was written in this space that if it is indeed breaking the rules — however misguided those rules may be — that USC again needs to clean up its act. But for the NCAA to surreptitiously act now would be yet another dereliction of its duty.
"I certainly hope not, because not one player on our team is involved with that," Enfield said of the FBI probe. "These kids deserve to be there, and they're not.''
That's the bottom line here. No matter the size of the cloud that hangs over their heads, the Trojans earned the right to compete in college athletics' marquee event. But they were shut out, with the only possible reasons being inattention or deviousness.
"We don't understand it, we'd like to hear answers,'' Enfield said.
The NCAA blew it. There's your answer.