LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 11: Kevin Parrom #3 of the Arizona Wildcats and Nikola Vucevic #5 of the USC Trojans battle for a loose ball in the first half in the semifinals of the 2011 Pacific Life Pac-10 Men's Basketball Tournament at Staples Center on March 11, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
That's it. The Pac-10 tournament run is over. There won't be a nationally televised mid-afternoon game on CBS tomorrow. No reprise of 2009. And likely, no NCAA tournament appearance either.
Save a trip to the NIT, this is the finished product. A 19-14 overall record, a litany of wins over quality basketball teams, but an equal number of losses to inferior opponents. You've seen the resume. You've heard the arguments: wins over Arizona, Tennessee, Texas and UCLA, but losses to Oregon, Oregon State, Rider and TCU.
The selection committee is going to decide whether the Trojans are a tournament team on Sunday, and concede whether quality wins trump inexcusable losses. Because, for this team, that's what it comes down to.
With a seven-man rotation, and I hate to keep bringing this up, it becomes increasingly difficult to string together successive victories. The mere fact that they've won six out of their last eight games, which includes wins over Arizona and Washington, is a rather remarkable feat in its own right. But with a small roster, it becomes increasingly important for all seven to be effective nightly. And that sadly, that won't always happened; it wasn't the case against Arizona on Friday night either. Nikola Vucevic had a quiet 16 points (I stress quiet heavily) and Jio Fontan finished with 7 - both totals well below their season averages.
The talk around L.A. Live before the game centered on the suspension of Kevin O'Neill, whether it was the right decision or whether is was too preemptive. That aside, the players at least insist that his absence did not have a major impact on the game.
"K.O.is a big part of our team, but he is not going to go out there and play for us," Vucevic told the media following the game.
Fontan echoed similar sentiments.
"This is no disrespect to KO in any way, but I don't think him being here would have changed anything in the game."
Granted, they're going to say these things. They're not going to fault their coach's bar "fight" for a five-point loss to Arizona, a team which by the way has 12 of its last 14 games (note: ones of those two losses was to USC).
So the question now begs: Did the loss of O'Neill have an impact? It's the million dollar question. And yes, how could it not? He's the head coach, and for 32 games this season, he's paced the sidelines. So, why would the loss of a figurehead of consistency not have had an effect?
Defensive adjustments appeared slower, as Arizona shot over 40 percent from beyond the arc. At times, 'SC appear out of sync - on the defensive end. So, in all likelihood, O'Neill was missed no matter what was said.
But to say USC lost Friday, by five points, because O'Neill was missing might be a bit of a jump. It comes to individual accountability: Fontan needs to finish in double-figures, Alex Stepheson needs to provide scoring relief in the interior and somebody has to defend Derrick Williams, who finished with 20 points on 70 percent shooting.
Mind you Arizona is a good team and 'SC, despite the circumstances, played hard and nearly pulled off the upset. It's just too bad, really, that it couldn't have reached the 20-win plateau before the selection committee glances over its resume.