The USC Trojans are on the middle of the bubble while Utah and Arizona State try to make up ground on them in the Pac-12. USC’s ability to beat Colorado on Thursday night in Boulder should not be seen as a seismic or transformative moment. This win doesn’t dramatically change the equation for USC. No one should be saying, “Oh, the Trojans are in!!! We got this!”
No, it’s not that big a win. Colorado isn’t particularly good, so beating the Buffaloes won’t catapult USC up the seed list. We can acknowledge that.
However, there is real value attached to this game, and that’s what we’re here to talk about.
The downward movements by bubble teams meant that even though a win over Colorado is essentially a “stay in place” game for USC (avoid losing ground more than rising up the board), that act of staying in place would put USC in a comparatively better position than the other bubble teams which lost over the past few days.
USC can gain by staying put. Other teams are falling, so the Trojans can remain in one place and yet come out ahead.
That is what the value of the Colorado win truly is. Other teams fell, USC didn’t.
Here’s the larger significance of that reality: USC goes to Salt Lake City for Saturday’s game at Utah knowing that it’s not an absolute must-win. If USC had lost this game to Colorado, it would absolutely have to beat Utah to stay in the hunt. Now, USC has bought itself some time and space. Losing to Utah would not be great, to be sure, but it won’t crush USC’s resume if it happens. At worst (if USC does lose to Utah), the Trojans will still be on the middle of the bubble heading into the Arizona school homestand in early March.
If the Trojans can at least beat Arizona State, they will enter the Pac-12 Tournament on the middle of the bubble. It’s very likely USC will be on the middle of the bubble at the very worst when the Pac-12 tourney rolls around.
One more note: The win over Colorado means that if USC can beat both Utah and Arizona State, and then win its Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal (against an opponent which will have finished lower than USC in the conference standings), it might not need to beat the Arizona Wildcats next week to get in. Obviously, USC beating the U of A would be massive for the Trojans’ NCAA chances, but beating Colorado gives USC a non-Arizona path.
Now let’s see what happens on a huge college basketball Saturday. USC can take a big step forward at Utah, and other bubble teams are facing some “win or die” moments as well. We’ll talk to you more about those bubble teams on Friday.