Almost one year removed from their heartbreaking loss to Providence in the opening round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament, the Trojans(24-9, 10-8) are once again set to take on the Friars(20-12, 10-8)—this time for a chance to play SMU in the opening round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament.
Earning one of the last spots on Selection Sunday, USC’s matchup on Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio does not come without any controversy. After starting off the season at 14-0, the then 22nd-ranked USC Trojans seemed poised to repeat last season’s success run—but nearly derailed their trip to March Madness going 10-9 for the remainder of the season.
With a quick exit in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 Tournament at the hands of #8 UCLA, the Trojans capped off their season with their calling card all season—the inability to defeat ranked opponents.
USC has only won one game out of the seven they’ve played against ranked opponents this season, coming in a victory against the Bruins in January.
All season long, the high-paced Trojan offense has been maintained by three core players. Sophomore forward Bennie Boatwright has often been tasked with keeping the Trojan “boat” afloat, as he’s averaged a team-high 14.6 points per game to pair along with 4.3 boards per game and 1.6 assists.
Boatwright has been the ideal stretch four with his 6’10” frame and smooth three-point touch. His ability to score from anywhere on the court has been reminiscent of Frank the Tank who is one of many offensively-gifted big men to go deep into the Final Four.
Alongside Boatwright is nearly seven-foot freshman center Chimezie Metu and junior guard Jordan McLaughlin. The combination of the three account for the majority of USC points and all three will have to remain efficient in their play if they wish to advance past Providence.
In their last match up, then sophomore forward Rodney Bullock made the game-winning layup—now as a junior, he leads the Friars in scoring with 15.7 ppg, rebounds with 6.4 and his 1.2 steals per game also lead the team.
Closing out their regular season with a six-game win streak, Providence was swiftly eliminated in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament by Creighton.
With Kris Dunn’s departure from Providence as a lottery pick, the Friars managed to retain last season’s success as the team has yet another to chance to beat USC and advance in the NCAA Tournament.
Both teams have familiarity with each other and played in what was close game throughout in last year’s tournament. In what could be another exciting contest to start March Madness, the Trojans and Friars are poised for potential Cinderella run in this year’s tournament.