The men’s basketball team ended the season with their highest finish ranking in the Coaches Poll as the No. 9 team in the country with their 25-8 record.
The team is losing some key pieces next season, such as the lottery-projected pick, freshman Evan Mobley, his brother sophomore Isaiah Mobley — who still kept his eligibility open to returning — and graduate transfer Tahj Eaddy. However, the Trojans still have some important members including redshirt senior forward Chevez Goodwin and new junior transfer guard from Memphis Boogie Ellis. Overall, the Trojans may not have their full force like last season, but will still be able to compete against any tough competition they would face in the conference.
The Trojans, along with the Pac-12, caught the nation’s eye with their long runs in last season’s NCAA tournament, with USC and Oregon State making the Elite 8, along with cross-town rival UCLA getting to the Final Four. So, when the men’s team released their conference schedule last week, it is important to look at the upcoming marquee matchups for the season.
No. 5: Oregon State
The Oregon State Beavers may have had one of the unexpected postseason runs out of all the teams in the NCAA last season. They entered the Pac-12 tournament with a 14-12 record, and knocked off UCLA, Oregon and Colorado in the process to win the Pac-12 title. Then, they went on to make the Elite 8 as a 12th seed, beating high-quality teams such as Oklahoma State and Loyola Chicago.
The Beavers, extending their head coach Wayne Tinkle’s contract, are also adding the former Maryland center Chol Marial and former Minnesota guard Tre’ Williams to their already deep squad who has shown they are capable against top-tier opponents, beating USC last season in Corvallis, 58-56.
No. 4: Arizona
Arizona has been a difficult team to go against, despite their one year self-imposed postseason ban, as they were able to beat the Trojans at the Galen Center last season 81-72. Going into next season, the Wildcats have already lost their star guard James Akingo. But, they look to replace his presence with Georgia transfer Justin Kier. Arizona will be fired up to play their best after missing out on postseason action, so USC will be in store for a close matchup with them.
No. 3: Oregon
Even though the Trojans ousted the Ducks twice, both in the regular season at home and in the Sweet 16, the Trojans will face a tough matchup against them this regular season. The Ducks easily beat the dominant Iowa Hawkeyes team, led by Luka Garza, proving how this team is capable of giving other programs a challenge. Oregon is known for major transfer moves to strengthen their squad, making them a strong opponent for USC.
No. 2: Colorado
The Colorado Buffaloes were able to beat the Trojans, not only once, but three times last season (twice in the regular season and once in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals). Even though Colorado only got to the second round of the NCAA tournament and as they lose their star guard McKinley Wright IV — who ranked in the top 20 for points, assists, rebounds and steals in Colorado men’s basketball history — this will be a crucial matchup for USC to show that they have developed from last season by taking down an opponent who figured them out on multiple occasions.
No. 1: UCLA
This was going to be the obvious selection, but the UCLA Bruins, who were able to make a run to the Final Four, will be the most important games this upcoming season in the conference. Keep in mind that the Bruins will keep most of their squad (except for possibly losing their key sophomore Johnny Juzang to the draft), so this team intends to keep up their momentum from last season with many early preseason reports putting them as either No. 1 or No. 2 ranks going into the 2021-22 season. Add on the fact that USC beat them twice last season, UCLA will be out for revenge.