Well, here we go. After 31 regular season and two games in the Pac-10 tournament, USC travels to Dayton, Ohio, for a play-in game with the hope of extending its season to, well, at least Friday.
Before it moves on to the second round for a possible matchup with No. 6-seeded Georgetown it will contend with a team in Virginia Commonwealth that's inclusion in the field of 68 was incredibly controversial. The Rams went just 5-5 to close the season, even dropping four of its last five prior to the Colonial Athletic Association tournament. A late run, capped by a semifinal win over George Mason, however, was enough to allow them to earn an at-large bid. In short, VCU isn't supposed to be here. Per the Associated Press:
Rams coach Shaka Smart said he and his players are driven by all the slings and arrows.
"We use that as motivation with our players," he said. "We have some guys that they love it when people doubt them. It really feeds their competitive juices. The reality is all that is just drama surrounding the NCAA tournament. Now, the fans, the media love drama. As a coach and as players, it has nothing to do with when the ball goes up in the air tomorrow night at 9 o'clock. That drama all goes away."
In spite of roster that doesn't appear to be glittered with NBA prospects, there is some productivity, per the Daily Trojan:
Led by the shooting prowess of junior guard Bradford Burgess (14 points per game, 48.8 field goal percentage and 40.1 three-point percentage) and the veteran leadership of senior forward Jamie Skeen (15.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.2 block per game) and senior guard Brandon Rozzell (11.3 points per game, 1.4 steals per game and 38.6 three-point percentage), VCU comes in to the University of Dayton Arena confident it can play its way into the second round.
I remarked yesterday that VCU is just enough to beat USC and the Trojans are bad enough to lose a game they should normally win. It's happened before. Against Rider. Against TCU. Against Oregon. Against Oregon State. This the "Big Dance" now, and it's time for USC to play the way it did against Texas or Arizona (at home). It's shown potential. Nikola Vucevic has proven to be a 20-10 guy nightly. Jio Fontan has show he can consistently score in double-figures, as have Maurice Jones and Donte Smith. If things fall into place, this is a team capable of making a run past tonight. There's enough offensive fireworks to keep the team afloat. Not enough to out-gun the opposition, but based on recent results, there's no reason not to think they could surprise.
We'll, obviously, find out more this evening.
So, if you have TruTV, tune in and fire away below.