Through 15 games, USC’s men’s basketball team has been impressive and unbeatable at times. They currently have a record of 12-3, and they are 6-2 in the Pac-12 — good for second in the conference.
Led by dominant freshman forward Evan Mobley, USC has lost only one game in January. The Trojans swept Arizona and Arizona State on the road for the first time in 36 years and went on a six-game winning streak in the same month.
However, as the toughest part of USC’s schedule awaits, there is clearly still some work to be done. If the Trojans want to compete for the Pac-12 title, they must finish the season strong.
Teamrankings.com, which uses computer simulations to predict March Madness, currently gives USC a 96.6% chance of making the tournament and a 21.3% chance of an automatic bid through winning the Pac-12 tournament.
With 11 games remaining, these are five of the most important games left for the Trojans to put themselves in a better position in March.
Away versus UCLA on Mar. 6
Any game against the Trojans’ crosstown rival is an important one, but the importance of this game cannot be understated.
No. 23 UCLA has the best record in the conference this season. When it comes to talent, the Bruins stack up well against the Trojans and pose a huge threat. The Bruins have an impressive five players averaging double-digit points, with an additional player averaging 9.9 per game. Clearly, they have more than enough depth to compete with USC.
Sophomore guard Tyger Campbell has been the heart of the Bruins this season, controlling the pace and flow of UCLA’s offense. He leads his team in assists with 6.2 per game and has also put up 11.7 points per game.
The foursome of Campbell, senior guard Chris Smith and sophomore guards Johnny Juzang and Jaime Jaquez Jr. figures to be a big problem for the Trojans when the two teams face off.
The road to the Pac-12 championship will surely go through the Bruins. Beating the Bruins on the road in USC’s last game of the season could also boost the Trojans’ seeding prospects as they look ahead to the NCAA Tournament.
Home versus Oregon (Delayed due to the coronavirus)
Prior to their season being put on hold due to a coronavirus outbreak, the Ducks were the best team in the Pac-12.
They rattled off eight wins in a row early in their schedule, then lost to Colorado and beat Utah before they were forced to quarantine due to NCAA protocols. Their first game back was a loss to bitter rival Oregon State.
It was not an ideal start, but this is still an extremely talented team with a prolific senior guard in Chris Duarte. Duarte has done much of the work for the Ducks this season, averaging 18.4 points per game.
Outside of Duarte, Oregon also has a pair of playmakers in senior forward Eugene Omoruyi, who is averaging 16.8 points per game, and junior forward Eric Williams Jr., who is averaging 12.3 points per game.
Away versus Colorado on Feb. 25
Colorado was the last team to beat USC before the Trojans’ ensuing six-game win streak. In a game where sophomore guard Ethan Anderson was out, the play of senior guard McKinley Wright was really the difference maker. With Anderson expected to be available this time around, the Trojans will be keen to even up the season series.
Similar to the aforementioned games against UCLA and Oregon, a win against Colorado might offer the Trojans’ some momentum before the Pac-12 and NCAA Tournament. A loss, however, would most likely result in a lower seed in the tournament — likely making the path towards a national title more difficult.
Home versus Stanford on Feb. 2
In a bizarre year in college basketball, the Cardinal might be the best worst team in the Pac-12.
They beat UCLA in a stunner, handled the Washington schools and Arizona but were blown out by Oregon, Colorado and Utah.
It’s this sort of inconsistency that makes this matchup terrifying for the Trojans. Simply put, USC has to take care of business, avoid a trap game and just beat Stanford. A loss to a struggling Stanford team would be a significant blemish on USC’s resume.
The Cardinals have a fantastic senior forward in Oscar da Silva. Despite his team’s record, Silva has dominated thus far, averaging 19.8 points per game on 60% shooting.
Combine his play with freshman forward Ziaire Williams and senior guard Daejon Davis, who have had double-digit points in almost every game played, and this is a team with the potential to set back USC’s season.
Defeating beatable teams is what the NCAA Tournament seeding committee looks for when deciding the seeds for the tournament. If USC doesn’t get it done against Stanford, they will have given the seeding committee a decent reason to knock the Trojans down a couple seeds come March.
Home versus Oregon State on Jan. 28
Coming off a three-game span where they beat Arizona State, USC and Oregon, the Beavers are rolling. If the Trojans dropped another game to the Beavers — who despite impressive recent performances still sit at No.7 in the conference standings — the loss would give the seeding committee reason to hesitate when evaluating the Trojans’ record.
Oregon State has the ability to pull off an upset, as evidenced by the fact that they already snapped USC’s win streak last week. Because of USC’s impressive record thus far, a loss likely wouldn’t doom the Trojan’s NCAA Tournament prospects, but still, avenging their previous loss to the Beavers could go a long way in building some momentum heading into February and March.