Trojans have reason for optimism with NCAA tournament chances

Members of the women's basketball team are helping up a fellow teammate from the ground.
USC Women’s Basketball ended the season with a loss, but finish with an impressive 21-9 record. (Cassandra Yra | Daily Trojan)

In less than one week, the NCAA Tournament selection committee will release the men’s and women’s March Madness brackets. Upon the release of the brackets, college basketball fans will eagerly await the start of both tournaments the same week. USC’s men’s and women’s basketball teams have not both made the NCAA tournament in the same year since the 1996-97 season. However, both teams have played well enough to be considered “in the field,” so let’s take a look and see if both teams of Trojans will get invited to the Big Dance, or if their invites will be lost in the mail. 

Women’s Basketball (21-9)

Women’s basketball is currently having its best season since its last NCAA tournament run in the 2013-14 season. Currently projected to be a 10 seed by ESPN’s Charlie Creme, it seems as if the Trojans should be locked into March Madness. The NET Rankings, a system the NCAA Selection Committee uses to evaluate a team’s resume, currently have USC at No. 31.

The NET Rankings are important as they provide the framework for how the bracket gets made. The NET separates every game into quadrants based on their opponents’ ranking in an attempt to describe how “good” or “bad” a loss is. Losses against teams in the third and fourth quadrants are “bad” losses; USC has no such losses. USC’s best wins include a 9-point victory over Stanford (No. 4 in the NET), a 5-point win against Oregon (No. 20) at Galen Center and a 17-point road victory over Colorado (No. 23). 

Despite losing in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament, the Trojans benefit from playing in the best conference according to RPI. In Creme’s bracket, he projects seven other teams in the Pac-12 join USC in the Big Dance. Barring a large number of unforeseen “bid stealers”, it seems as if the Trojans will make it to the NCAA tournament in Head Coach Lindsay Gottlieb’s second season. 

Men’s Basketball (22-9)

The men’s team is in a similar position to the women’s team where they haven’t fully guaranteed their spot in the NCAA tournament. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi and Fox Sports’ Mike DeCourcy currently have the Trojans as 10 and 9 seeds, respectively. USC’s NET ranking is 44 and their KenPom rating, a predictive metric used by the NCAA tournament selection committee, is 35. 

USC’s best wins are at home against UCLA (No. 4 in the NET) and Auburn (No. 32) and on the road against Colorado (No. 72). For losses, USC has two quadrant three or four losses: at home versus Florida Gulf Coast (No. 178) and at Oregon State (No. 223). Following the team’s win against Arizona State (No. 65), they have all but secured a place in the NCAA tournament.

The Trojans just have the Pac-12 tournament left on their schedule, where they will go in as the 3-seed. This means they’ll play the winner of Arizona State and Oregon State. A loss to Oregon State will likely put USC out of the tournament and ruin their resume, while a loss against Arizona State would likely keep the Trojans in the tournament. A run to the final of the tournament, if they beat Arizona, will likely mean the Trojans will be a nine seed. Winning the Pac-12 tournament might mean the committee gives USC as high as an eight seed. The key here for USC is to not lose in the quarter final if they want a stress-free Selection Sunday. Another bad loss could mean USC does not control its own destiny. 

The Verdict: 

Both teams of Trojans should enter Selection Sunday feeling hopeful and optimistic about their chances of getting an at-large bid. To recap, the only real issue on the women’s team’s resume is not beating a lot of elite teams, as the women’s team doesn’t have any bad losses. The men’s team’s resume includes a lot of losses in games against good teams and losing to Florida Gulf Coast to open the season and Oregon State in Corvallis. The women’s team should feel a lot safer, but if everything goes to plan, both teams will make it back to the NCAA tournament in the same year for the first time this century.