Earlier this season, we told you that USC would absolutely have to beat UCLA or Arizona at least once to make the 2023 NCAA Tournament. To be very clear, USC can sorely use a win over the Bruins or Wildcats in its pursuit of an NCAA bid. We strongly recommend that USC grab a win over at least one of the two Pac-12 heavyweights. That hasn’t changed.
What has changed is that USC looks like a much stronger team with Vince Iwuchukwu on the floor. His big game against Arizona State showed what is possible for this team. If USC can remain strong in the coming weeks, the Trojans will make the case to the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee that with Iwuchukwu, this is an NCAA Tournament-caliber team. If there is a contentious and complicated bubble debate heading into Selection Sunday, USC might get the benefit of the doubt based on the fact that it didn’t have Iwuchukwu for the first two months of the season.
Yes, USC can relieve a lot of bubble pressure and drama by beating UCLA this Thursday or Arizona several weeks from now when the Wildcats go to Los Angeles. However, with Iwuchukwu now in the mix, the Trojans might be strong enough to go on the road and win at Utah and Colorado. They might be able to win at Oregon and grab a second win against Arizona State when the Sun Devils travel to Southern California in early March.
Yes, USC should expect to beat UCLA or Arizona if it wants to make the NCAA Tournament, but after the win at Arizona State, it’s possible that USC could get in by beating every non-UCLA, non-Arizona team on its schedule.
A few weeks ago, that path didn’t seem realistic. Now, it seems a lot more possible — not likely, but something which can’t be written off or easily dismissed.
At worst, USC should be in the thick of the bubble discussion all the way to Selection Sunday, which is March 12. This is a much better position than what USC occupied two weeks ago.
And, should USC beat UCLA or Arizona? The Trojans’ odds of making the NCAA Tournament would skyrocket. Getting that one high-end win is now a “win and in” situation, more than a “win to have any possible chance” situation.
Things are looking better for USC … but yes, beating one of the big boys is still hugely important.