As the Providence Friars and USC Trojans get set to do battle in Wednesday night’s First Four, we decided to reach out to Conquest Chronicles, SB Nation’s USC blog, to try and get more of a read on the Trojans.
Here’s what CC had to say.
Big East Coast Bias: First and foremost, this is an NCAA Tournament rematch from the exciting Round of 64 game last year. What's different about USC this year?
Conquest Chronicles: Quite a bit actually, there has been a ton of roster overhaul on the USC Trojans roster since last season. In fact only 4 players from the core group returned from last season for the USC Trojans, Sophomores Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu and Juniors Jordan McLaughlin and Elijah Stewart.There are only two seniors on this team one almost never plays, and the other was a senior transfer. This team has 4 freshman and two transfer players for a total of 6 players who were either not on the roster or ineligible to play against Providence last year. It is still the same system and the same style of play but plenty of new faces.
BECB: The Trojans started the year 13-0 and then went 10-8 in Pac-12 play to barely skate into the NCAA Tournament. Did something change entering conference play, or did USC just play a very easy nonconference schedule?
CC: It is a little bit of both. Bennie Boatwright missed about half of the season due to injury, and the non conference slate was underwhelming save for the Trojans win over SMU back in November. Furthermore, the Pac-12 took a ton of grief for being a top-heavy conference with Oregon, UCLA, and Arizona as the only quality teams in the conference. USC played each of these top-10 teams twice during their 10-8 stretch (they played UCLA 3 times if you count the Pac-12 Tournament). They also played 3 top NIT teams Cal, Colorado, and Utah all within one week. So it was not just that the early competition was not great, it is also that their Pac-12 slate was quite difficult.
While USC should have beaten Cal and Utah, really the only game that you could point to as an obvious disappointment was the Trojans loss to a struggling Arizona State late in the season which many point to the reason why USC dropped from a comfortable slot in the tournament down to the last four in. It is worth pointing out loss came after playing Oregon, UCLA, and Arizona all in a row over the course of 12 days.
BECB: What are some strengths and weaknesses the Trojans have, as a team?
CC: The Trojans’ inexperience is a major weakness to be sure. This team needs to learn how to finish games. USC has 3 losses by 3 points or fewer and a great deal of their wins were much closer than they should have been. This group can also get ice cold for long stretches of time.
One of their biggest strengths is that this team is ultra talented though inexperienced. While they might not have the ability to consistently beat the top teams in their conference but they have plenty of talent. Also when this team is playing with confidence and energy the Trojans can really start to roll.
BECB: Who is a player Providence fans should be aware of on USC?
CC: I’ll give you two players. 6’11” sophomore forward Chimezie Metu number 4, and 6’10” sophomore forward Bennie Boatwright number 25. Boatwright has been battling injuries all season long and has missed a lot of action, he is healthy now and has started really find his rhythm again. Metu is a big man in the middle that can absolutely take over the paint and cause plenty of havoc if the opposing team has no answer for him.
BECB: Finally, what's your prediction for this game?
CC: USC has struggled mightily against quality teams away from home. Really their only good win outside of the Galen Center was against Colorado, a 5-seed in the NIT tournament. They also have not defeated a 20+ win team on the road this year either. Providence is a 20-win team, and Dayton is a long, long way from the Galen Center in Los Angeles. While I would love to see USC show us something they have not shown all season i think it is more likely that the trend continues.