Anthony on LA: It’s clear why USC basketball is still disrespected

It’s been more than a month since my previous column, meaning so much has gone on in Los Angeles sports. 

USC’s Pac-12 regular-season title chances were buried after losing to Arizona. The Clippers stayed steady in the Western Conference playoff race. And the Lakers, well, they stink. 

But, as a self-proclaimed
die-hard Lakers fan, I’m not going to use this column as a space to rant about them. Their season needs to end sooner rather than later for the sake of many Laker fans’ well being. That’s all I have to say about them. 

Since it’s March, my return to column glory is simple. I know you’ve missed seeing my glasses and smile. I must talk about the madness involved with this Trojans’ hoops program. 

Let me get straight to it: USC needs to have another deep run in March. I thought after that Elite Eight trip, the disrespect toward Trojans basketball would be over. Boy, was I wrong. 

During most press conferences, Head Coach Andy Enfield is prone to include statistics self-proclaiming USC’s season. The numbers show that this is a program that’s been among the most successful in school history the previous three seasons. 

A head coach should not have to hype his own team up, but it’s the seat he’s in — trying to sell a program that is constantly disrespected, even with impressive win totals. 

With 72 wins during that time, it’s a school record that breaks the older record from 2016 to 2018, and this season’s 25 regular season wins break another school record. With two wins at the Pac-12 Tournament, this team would break the record for most wins in a season, including the postseason. 

Those numbers make a case for this program to be among the country’s best. But, the numbers lie in this situation. 

There’s a silly little reason as to why the Trojans are disrespected nationally. One that’s so obvious, so in your face clear, so “God, is this bracketology real?” that we often blind ourselves to it.

USC’s schedule is, simply, soft. 

Its non-conference opponents this year included schools such as Cal State Northridge, Dixie State, Eastern Kentucky and Long Beach State, among others. With the utmost respect to those schools, wins over them do not jump out on a resume going into March Madness. 

The Trojans this season had the 66th toughest schedule, behind five Pac-12 schools, including UCLA and Arizona. You can’t wonder why there’s a lack of respect and why the Galen Center is often empty when the early season matchups are, frankly, not exciting. 

When you look at the Bruins, some of their non-conference opponents were Gonzaga, Villanova and Marquette — three staples of college basketball. When you look at the Wildcats, some of their non-conference opponents were Michigan, Tennessee and Illinois — three more staples of college basketball. 

If Mike Bohn and company want to improve this program nationally, there must be more enticing non-conference games. For one, these games show how the program fares against top college basketball programs. It’s obvious why this is important because it will highlight where growth needs to take place.

Having these matchups is also a great way to increase hype on campus. Frankly, when USC plays any school other than UCLA, or Arizona this year, the student section is practically nonexistent.

The entire atmosphere of Galen Center? I’ll let redshirt senior forward Chevez Goodwin explain how it looked during a non-conference matchup. 

“Pacific, it was a library in here,” said Goodwin before the UCLA game. “So, I’m hoping, I’m praying, if there’s sellout fans, sellout crowd like they said they have in years past, I want to take a picture of it so I can frame it on the wall, because I don’t know if it’s going to happen again.”

That’s not a good look for the program to have, even if Goodwin might have just been cracking a joke.

To increase fan attendance, there’s a magical formula. 

1. You have to play well, and USC has been doing that for the last five seasons. Winning silences everything. 

2. There need to be exciting star players on the floor. Last year was a perfect example of this with forward Evan Mobley on the court, but the coronavirus pandemic put a wrench in everything. The Trojans have the sixth-best recruiting class next season too. 

3. You need to bring as many household programs as possible. This is USC. Why can’t Duke come to play here in a November matchup? Even if overmatched, it’s a good litmus test.

The athletic department must try. Bohn has been adamant about creating a strong basketball culture with the Trojans. He hit it out of the park with hiring Lincoln Riley, but that’s just one program. 

It’s time to hold Bohn accountable before one of the program’s winningest coaches makes a move. Enfield has been vigorously linked to Maryland in recent weeks, making it seem like he might be out. 

If Enfield’s gone, bye-bye to any more national relevancy and bring on the disrespect. 

Anthony Gharib is a junior writing about all things Los Angeles sports. His column, “Anthony on LA,” typically runs every other Monday. He is also the sports editor.