The USC Trojans’ push for a spot in the 2023 NCAA Tournament can be framed and viewed in a number of ways. One way to look at the Trojans’ challenge is to say that they have to beat UCLA or Arizona, if not both. They will need to win at least one game against the heavyweights of the Pac-12. The only path to March Madness which doesn’t include a win over the Bruins or Wildcats is a path in which USC wins virtually every other game … and that’s not likely.
USC did in fact just lose to Washington State on Sunday afternoon in Pullman. USC is highly unlikely to go 0-4 against UCLA and Arizona and win 15 Pac-12 games to finish 15-5 in the conference. A win over the big boys will be needed.
However, there’s another way to look at USC’s situation. In many ways, USC is in a three-team race for a bid.
Seven Pac-12 teams — Colorado, the Washington schools, the Oregon schools, and the Bay Area schools — seem near certain to miss the NCAAs this season. That leaves five teams with a chance or better. UCLA and Arizona are locks. This leaves USC with Utah and Arizona State as the three Pac-12 teams which could get in but are hardly guaranteed to make it.
In many ways, USC — along with Utah and Arizona State — must finish at least second in the competition among the three teams, and ideally first.
After the loss to Wazzu, it’s clear USC is third in that three-team battle.
Utah beat Arizona and is 4-0 in the Pac-12. The Utes are first. Arizona State has wins over Creighton and Michigan, and its only Pac-12 loss is to Arizona. The Sun Devils are second. USC, with the losses to Florida Gulf Coast and Washington State, is third. The Trojans have to get to a point where their resume is clearly better than either Utah or ASU, if not both. That’s a first step toward March. They also have to make sure their resume is nationally substantial, not just within the Pac-12.
Follow ASU and Utah if you want to get an evolving sense of whether USC will make the Big Dance … and how many teams the Pac-12 will send to Bracketville.