A lot has changed in three games, huh?
Following the Trojans' disastrous performance against Oregon in early February, it appeared as if USC was in fact NIT-bound, if that, and in all honestly, was just a bad basketball team at the time.
Strangely, the Trojans gotten their act together in the past week or so: Winning three games in a row for the first time all season, and now, at 16-12 an at-large is not out of the question. Is it likely? Absolutely not. A 20-win season with wins over Arizona, Tennessee and Texas, however, could make them at least viable for a bid. Yet, I don't anticipate such a scenario. But to reiterate, it's at least possible, and based on where they were earlier this season, that's pretty a darn good accomplishment in its own right. For goodness sake, they play only seven players (note: I hate repeating but seriously; there are seven guys in the rotation).
When you look at this team's improvement, it's easy to see why, well, they're winning. In early February, offensive production outside of Nikola Vucevic was pretty scarce. Vucevic would notch a double-double. In that infamous game against Oregon on Feb. 12, Kid Euro finished with 22 points, while the next closest, Maurice Jones and Donte Smith, had 9. So yea, everyone else would seemingly finish in single figures night after night.
But recently, production has come from other places. Against Cal on Feb. 17, Jones finished with 22 points. Last night, against Arizona, Jio Fontan had tied his season-high of 21 points.
What's caused the increase in production? A couple of theories...
Rest: O'Neill has stopped holding Friday practices.
Lineup change: Fontan has switched back to the point guard with Maurice Jones being relegated to more of a backup role. Jones, along with Smith, have been used more of as two guards.
Defense: You could make the argument, and a good one actually, that the days off have helped the team's defensive performance. Against the Wildcats, Derrick Williams was held to a season-low of eight points, and collectively UA had just 57.
Remember, this is a young team and there is a lot of room for growth. The "fire K.O." chant was always premature, because well, some of these guys on the roster needed a chance to grow. Otherwise, the record is incomplete. Jones is a freshman. Fontan is playing for the first time in over a year. Vucevic is just in his second full season of playing. Donte has never played consist minutes before.
At the very least, this team is playing better down the stretch run, which wasn't the case a year ago. Will that trend continue? Who knows. But for now, they appear headed in the right direction.