Among all of the bracket configurations, assumptions and criticisms -- Selection Sunday treated the basketball world to one of the more ear-perking matchups with #8 USC taking on geographically distant opponent #9 Providence in the NCAA tournament's opening round.
For the Trojans, being one of the major programs in all of NCAA Division I athletics, hasn't necessarily translated into success when it comes to men's basketball.
Since its inception in 1906, USC men's basketball has made 15 (officially) NCAA tournament appearances with the Final Four being the furthest round the school has ever reached. Heading into this season, not much was expected from this Trojan team, as under coach Andy Enfield's tutelage over the prior two season, the Trojans had gone a collective 23-41 while going 5-31 in the Pac-12 play finishing last in both seasons.
In just one season, the Trojans have been reborn as they finished their year 21-12. That is the most wins they've had since the 2008-2009 season, and have more conference wins, 9-9, than they did collectively the past two seasons.
The biggest reason for the team's success this year has been the effectiveness on offense. Of the 346 schools eligible in NCAA Division I men's basketball, USC ranks 20th in points per game with 80.8 and 26th in three-point percentage at 38.5 percent.
With the team playing as well as they have, the Trojans have failed to show they can win consistently against elite competition. Their biggest victory of the season came in early January against then seventh-ranked Arizona in a quadruple overtime barnburnerâ the same Wildcats that were defeated by the Providence Friars two months prior.
Under the guidance of fifth year head coach Ed Cooley, the Friars' path to their third consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament was been filled with plenty of upsets along the way.
With victories over top-ten schools Villanova, Butler and Xavier at the time, the Friars have done more than enough to position themselves in the tournament. Alas, this success didn't happen on accident. It is attributed to one of the best players in college basketball, 6'4", 220lbs. junior point guard Kris Dunn. Already a projected lottery pick, Dunn has fought back injuries over the course of his collegiate career to produce a stellar season where he boasts 16 points per game, 6.4 assists and 5.5 rebounds.
Alongside Dunn is his running mate and offensive dynamo sophomore forward Ben Bentil. The 6'9" forward is in the top-20 scoring leaders with an average of 21.2 ppg. With a prominent duo in Dunn and Bentil, the Trojans will certainly have their hands full Thursday night in Raleigh.
In a battle where the Trojans will attempt to control their game with an overwhelming offensive attack, the Friars' stars will attempt to take over the game with their superior and NBA-ready talent. Regardless of the outcome, expect a lot of fast-paced offense in this one and a potential Cinderella-run from the victor.