There are a number of ways to look at the regular season. One, USC finished two games shy of 20 wins (seemingly a benchmark for an at-large tournament berth), were the only team in the Pac-10 to beat Arizona, UCLA and Washington, and finished fourth overall in the conference when it was picked to finish sixth in the preseason.
But despite surpassing expectations, at least to some degree, the Trojans' resume is still a bit incomplete, needing at least two wins in this weekend's Pac-10 tournament to have a shot at soliciting an at-large bid. You can fault the team for losing to Rider all you want. Yes, bad losses have killed 'SC, but more so the losses in conference play. USC lost at home to Cal, as well as going 1-4 against the Oregon. Those turnaround and this is suddenly a 20-win team heading into the conference tournament with wins over Arizona, Tennessee, Texas, UCLA and Washington. - five tournament teams if you still count the Huskies.
Just based on overall performance, it would seem as if USC should coast against the No. 5 seeded Bears. But mind you, since upsetting UCLA by six points in overtime at Haas Pavilion on Feb. 24, Cal has won four straight games, including the win over the Bruins, and has also had success against the Trojans this season.
Despite the fact that 'SC leads the conference in scoring defense, Cal has scored 68 and 75 points when facing the Trojans - normally Kevin O'Neill's group gives up 63 points per game. But mostly disappointing for USC might be the fact that in their 68-66 to Cal on Jan. 22, junior forward Nikola Vucevic, who was recently named to the All-Pac-10 first team and could potentially declare early for the NBA Draft, finished with a season-low six points and a season-high five fouls. That, obviously, can't occur this afternoon.
If the Trojans want to go dancing, they need a win tonight. Otherwise, start printing out NIT brackets.