You know the saying "A picture is worth a 1000 words"? Well this one is only worth two, "pressure defense". (via www.azcentral.com)
There is a very well known story by Jorge Luis Borges called "The Aleph" where Borges attempts to describe looking into an infinitely tiny point which contains the whole of reality. The story is not so much about the Aleph itself as it is about the limits of vocabulary to describe something that is simply indescribable using the written word. USC's run in the Pac 10 tournament is similar, albeit on a less grand scale, but if you are a fan of SC Hoops than words just cannot adequately describe the run put together over these past three days. It was just one of those things I think that it had to be seen to be known, but you'll forgive me if I try anyways.
This was the team everyone expected to see in the preseason. Dwight Lewis knocking down clutch three pointers on consecutive nights, Demar Derozan stuffing the stat sheet game after game (21.0 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 2.3 APG), and a healthy Marcus Simmons chipping in with some incredible defense and timely put backs. And of course let's not forget Daniel Hackett and Taj Gibson. Hackett not only played the entire tournament, but he played at full intensity at both ends of the court and showed exactly why everyone refers to him as the heart and soul of the team. Taj Gibson stepped up in a big way too as his defensive presence (read 4 blocks against ASU) was key to winning it all, but most of all Taj stepped up as a leader of the team by willingly taking on the defensive assignment that ultimately resulted in victory for the Trojans.
The cause for all the frustration this entire season boils down to one simple word expectations. Before college basketball had even kicked off, most followers of the program believed that despite the losses of OJ Mayo and Davon Jefferson, USC would be able to contend for a Pac 10 title and in all likelihood secure a third consecutive 20 win season and NCAA tournament berth. Four and a half long months later Floyd's team came out of a roller coaster season with a disappointing 9-9 conference record after being alone in third place at the half way mark. It was very easy earlier this week to forget why expectations were so high to begin with, but the fact of the matter is that Tim Floyd has a very good team put together. The current roster is loaded with a good mix of talent and experience, but some tough breaks (6 losses in games decided by five points or less), untimely injuries/illness (Cunningham, Lewis, Washington, Gibson, Hackett), and a lack of composure down the stretch (Seton Hall, Missouri, Oklahoma) all prevented this team from playing to its potential. I refuse to believe that most USC fans would be unwilling to accept a bad season here and there, but everyone knew this team was playing way below what they were capable of which lead to a lot of disappointment with both the players and the coaches.
...Well the team sure picked one hell of a time to put it all together!
More after the Jump...
So is this season a success then? I certainly think so. Regardless of what happens from here on out, there is nothing that can really take away from Floyd and Company's latest accomplishment as the players can fairly call themselves, in at least some sense, champions. Perhaps more importantly though, these recent wins have washed away the bad taste left by a dismal showing in February and USC is now enjoying its longest period of sustained success in Basketball in the modern era. There is ismply no downplaying three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, three consecutive 20+ win seasons, and another likely top 10 recruiting class. Sure, there have been a number of setbacks over the past couple of years, but SC is building some great momentum here and it is hard not to feel like things are headed in the right direction.
Looking ahead a little bit, I have a hard time predicting what kind of seeding SC will get from the selection committee. On one hand the trojans beat three tournament bound teams in three nights on a semi-neutral court. On the other hand, SC has a distinct lack of big road wins which will really hurt when it comes down to competing with other teams. On the other other hand, the Trojans played Oklahoma very tough in a hostile environment and sport a strong RPI at 38 and a healthy SOS of 21. ESPN's Joe Lunardi has USC currently placed as a nine seed, but in my admittedly amateur opinion the Trojans could find themselves as low as 10 seed and as high as a 7. I guess we'll just have to wait and see waht comes out later tonight.
Regardless of seeding though, the most encouraging thing heading into the NCAAs is that SC has improved significantly on offense while recently returning to the same tenaciousness displayed on defense earlier in the season. According to stats master Ken Pomeroy, the Trojans are currently the 27th best team in the country with an Offensive efficiency rank of 62, up significantly from the mid to low rankings in the 80s that SC had for much of the season. USC is similarly rated by Jeff Sagarin's Predictor (which uses scoring margin) as the 29th best team. This makes me optimistic that SC has a shot to win a game or two even if they get a relatively low seed. This is certainly contingent on them playing at the high level they have dplayd at lately lately, but USC has shown that win or lose they can hang with anyone they play. So get revved up Hoops fans, it tournament time and however unlikely it seemed just a week ago, USC is every bit a part of the madness!