No respect? USC isn’t complaining about seeding ahead of showdown with Miami
USC left little doubt over the course of its record-breaking campaign that it belonged again in the NCAA tournament.
Twenty-six victories, especially after an extraordinary Elite Eight run last season, seemed enough to assure the Trojans got their due respect, advancing in consecutive years for the first time since 2017.
USC received that invite as expected Sunday, earning a No. 7 seed and a first-round meeting with No. 10 seed Miami (Fla.) on Friday in Greenville, S.C. Whether it got the respect it deserved after a record run through the regular season still remains to be seen.
Andy Enfield spent most of the season defending USC’s resume, pointing out how his team was overlooked or disrespected.
Boogie Ellis scored 27 points in USC’s 69-59 loss to UCLA in the Pac-12 tournament semis. He’ll need help for the Trojans to make a March Madness run.
But after the 26-win Trojans heard their names called as a seven seed on Sunday, there were no gripes to be heard from the coach.
“The nice thing is we’re in the tournament with 26 wins,” Enfield said. “We’re not really concerned about the seeding because we have no control over that. I’m just really happy about the progress of our team and where we are at right now.”
That progress hasn’t always been so clear in recent weeks, as USC lost three of four to finish out its season. Enfield was quick to point out Sunday that each of those three losses came against either Arizona (No. 1 seed) or UCLA (No. 4 seed). Though, the rest of its resume wasn’t exactly replete with signature wins.
Just twice has USC beat teams in the tournament field (UCLA and San Diego State).
Miami hasn’t been the most consistent of tournament teams, either. Like USC, it started the season strong, capping a 13-3 start with an upset win over Duke. Since, it hasn’t won more than three games in a row.
Still, the Hurricanes nearly upset Duke again in the ACC tournament, reminding of how dangerous their offense can be.
This March might be more madness than magic for UCLA and USC, who face tough roads to the Final Four in the Big Easy. Both teams must overcome some stiff competition in their regions to reach the Sweet 16 and beyond.
While the Hurricanes rank fifth in the ACC in scoring (74.8 points per game, they’re top 20 in efficiency according to KenPom.
“We’re ready to go,” USC wing Drew Peterson said. “We’ll take a good matchup. We’re excited where we fell. We’ll take it game by game. It’s all you can do at this point.”
USC is at least familiar now with what it takes to win in the tournament, having won three games on its way to the Elite Eight. This time, it won’t have to endure a bubble.
“It helps with experience,” Isaiah Mobley said. “Obviously, [last year] was a little different. But just take what we learned from last year, just take it game by game, really hone in on the details. You worry too far ahead, you can easily lose.”
If USC manages to get past Miami, the path ahead won’t be easy. Auburn and its star freshman Jabari Smith likely loom in the round of 32.
“I’ve said all season that the reason we have 26 wins is because these guys have big-game experience,” Enfield said. “Half our wins are away from home, which is very unique. If you look at all the better teams in college basketball, I saw a couple teams have 20-something wins, they have six wins on the road or seven wins on the road.
“So we’ve been able to do it on the road. When you go into March Madness, you have to go into a different arena and you have to play in front of a different fan base and our guys are used to that.”
The complete 68-team bracket for the 2022 NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
USC could have trouble convincing fans to follow them to Greenville where most of the arena will be Duke fans eager to catch the last games of legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski’s career.
But the Trojans should have at least one section to themselves, as forward Chevez Goodwin returns home to South Carolina for his swan song at USC.
The sixth-year senior grew up in Columbia, S.C. about 100 miles southeast of Greenville.
He’d told teammates before the selection show how much he was hoping for a homecoming. When USC’s name was finally called Sunday, no Trojan was more thrilled.
“He came 3,000 miles away to come here to school, and we told his family we’d schedule a game in South Carolina,” Enfield said with a laugh. “We finally did.”
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