NCAA Tournament resumes come in all shapes and sizes. Some teams lose a bunch of games but have several huge wins which offset the losses. Some teams load up in nonconference play and make the NCAA Tournament with a .500 record in their conference. Some teams struggle in non-con play but catch fire once they step inside their conference. Some teams simply avoid bad losses the whole season and have just enough good wins to get in.
The USC women’s basketball team is currently an example of that last NCAA Tournament profile. The Trojans are projected to be in the NCAA Tournament right now (Wednesday, January 18) due to their enormous win over Stanford. However, they’re just inside the cut line, hardly safe in a larger context. Why aren’t they a much more secure NCAA Tournament selection? Why are they still on the bubble with a 13-4 record which has losses only to ranked teams (No. 9 UCLA twice, No. 23 Oregon once, No. 25 Texas once)?
One might think that since USC has zero bad losses, the Trojans should be in better shape relative to the bubble than they actually are.
The problem is that the nonconference schedule was soft.
To be clear, this is not a criticism of Lindsay Gottlieb for scheduling a soft nonconference slate. USC entered this season as a program in a building phase. When USC becomes a national powerhouse (the way Stanford is in the Pac-12), it should and very probably will schedule a bunch of top teams.
The point remains that USC has some very soft wins on its schedule. Merrimack, Utah State, and San Jose State are bad teams. That will unavoidably reduce USC’s standing in the NET rankings and other metrics.
So, USC — despite the absence of bad losses — will need to grab a few more high-value wins to feel safe for the NCAA Tournament, while also avoiding any bad losses to teams in the bottom tier of the Pac-12: Washington, Cal, Oregon State, and Arizona State. The Trojans play each of those teams in the coming weeks, Washington twice.