USC Trojans

No. 3 Baylor ends No. 11 USC’s tournament run

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After comeback wins over Providence in the first four and No. 6 seed SMU in the first round, it looked like No. 11 seed Southern Cal’s second-round matchup with No. 3 seed Baylor was going to follow the same script.

The Trojans erased another double-digit deficit and had all the momentum in the final minutes of regulation, but a third Hollywood ending would not take place on Sunday night in Tulsa, as Manu Lecomte caught fire, leading the Bears to an 82-78 win to advance to the Sweet 16.

It was when USC took a 67-65 lead that Lecomte finally got in the scoring column, and it couldn’t have come at a more critical time for Baylor. Several minutes earlier, Johnathan Motley found himself on the bench with his fourth personal foul. In the span of less than a minute, the 5-foot-11 redshirt junior guard converted on a four-point play, knocked down another set of free throws and connected on a lay-up; an individual 8-0 run that the Bears up 73-65 heading into the final official TV timeout.

In the first round, Lecomte was quiet offensively, scoring 10 points — off 3-of-9 shooting — against No. 14 seed New Mexico State. It marked only the sixth time all season the Belgium native failed to make a 3-point field goal.

He went on to score 12 points, all of them coming in the final five minutes. Motley, who fouled out 90 seconds left, finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Terry Matson had 19 off the bench. King McClure scored 14 of his 17 in the first half.

Chimezie Metu had a game-high 28 points. Bennie Boatwright ended with 16.

USC trailed Providence by 17 in the First Four and was behind by a dozen to SMU in the first round before pulling off two improbable comebacks.

Baylor advances to the Sweet 16 to play the winner of No. 2 seed Duke and No. 7 seed South Carolina.

 

USC moves on to SMU rematch after First Four win

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A 17-point deficit wasn’t enough to keep USC from moving on from Dayton to Tulsa.

The Trojans erased a big deficit to dispatch Providence, 75-71, on Wednesday night to set up a first-round matchup Friday against sixth-seeded SMU.

USC looked to be in serious trouble after the early lead it built in the first half quickly evaporated and then became a 17-point deficit before halftime finally ended their misery. The Trojans shot just 34.5 percent in the first half while allowing the Friars to light it up at 54.6 percent overall while making 8 of 15 (53.3 percent) from 3-point range.

By halftime, it looked like Ed Cooley would be preparing a gameplan for the Mustangs before too long.

It took 13 minutes for everything to flip.

Suddenly, the Trojans found their groove and the Friars fell off the track. Providence had coughed up their 17-point lead before the 6-minute mark of the second half. They would never get it back.

Bennie Boatwright scored 24 points to lead the Trojans while Jordan McLaughlin added 18 points, 10 rebounds and four assists.

Emmitt Holt had 18 points while Rodney Bullock and Jalen Lindsey both had 17 points for Providence, which shot 1 of 5 from 3-point range in the second half after going 8 of 15 in the first half.

Now, the Trojans head to Oklahoma to face a higher seed that they’ve already beaten this season. USC defeated SMU 78-73 in November. USC shot 50 percent on 24 3-point attempts that day while also blocking eight Mustang shots.

Dillon Brooks shines again as No. 21 Oregon hands No. 22 USC first loss

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Dillon Brooks picked a hell of a week to prove to the nation that he’s healthy again.

Just 48 hours after the preseason all-american led No. 21 Oregon ended No. 2 UCLA’s undefeated run by posting 23 points, nine boards and four assists, he dropped 28 points on 9-for-10 shooting as the Ducks handed No. 22 USC their first loss of the season, 84-61.

Brooks missed the first three games of the regular season coming off of a foot injury he suffered over the summer. He only returned to the starting lineup four games ago; he’s averaging 20 points in those four games.

The two wins that the Ducks posted this weekend thrust them right back into the thick of the Pac-12 regular season title race, which didn’t look like it would necessarily be something that came to fruition this season. With Brooks struggling to find the form that made him one of college basketball’s best players last season Oregon looked like a shell of themselves. They were blown out at Baylor. They lost to Georgetown in the Maui Invitational. They struggled to beat the likes of Tennessee, UConn, Alabama and Boise State. They just didn’t look like the same team.

Until this week.

I wrote 1,200 words on the Ducks on Wednesday when they knocked off UCLA, and there isn’t much about Friday night’s win over USC that is all that different. But it is worth noting two things:

  • Dylan Ennis played his best game as a Duck, scoring 20 points, including 12 in the first six minutes of the second half as Oregon blew this game open. With Tyler Dorsey sputtering, it’s important for Oregon to have a back court scoring option.
  • The Ducks shot 8-for-20 from three two nights after hitting 11 threes against UCLA. The Ducks entered the week shooting 31.0 percent from beyond the arc. This team isn’t Creighton or UCLA, but they aren’t as bad as they’ve been from beyond the arc. Some regression to the mean was likely.

No. 24 USC rallies to beat Troy to improve to 10-0

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LOS ANGELES — Jordan McLaughlin really didn’t mind seeing No. 24 Southern California pushed to the limit by a big underdog.

McLaughlin scored 19 points, including a go-ahead floater in the lane with 48 seconds left, and USC remained undefeated with an 82-77 comeback victory over Troy on Saturday night.

“This was good for our young guys to get a game like this with conference coming up,” McLaughlin said. “It will help us mature.”

Southern California (10-0) has its best start since going 16-0 to open the 1971 season. It remains one of two undefeated Pac-12 schools, along with UCLA, which beat Ohio State on Saturday to improve to 12-0.

With the shot clock winding down in the final minute, McLaughlin drove into the lane, created separation and put a soft shot over two defenders to give USC the lead for good.

“Down the stretch, I feel like nine times out of 10 I’ll make the right play,” McLaughlin said. “Coach has always had confidence in me. That’s why I came here.”

USC coach Andy Enfield said McLaughlin’s go-ahead basket was a perfect example of the maturity he’s developed over the past two-plus seasons.

“Jordan is playing at such a high level for us,” Enfield said. “This year, he’s taken it to another level. The last three, four weeks, he’s playing as good as any point guard in the nation. That’s why we’re 10-0. It all starts with him.”

Chimezie Metu added 18 points and eight rebounds, Elijah Stewart had 11 points and Nick Rakocevic 10.

“We came out slow,” Metu said. “But we picked up our defensive intensity down the stretch and got some stops.”

Wesley Person had 19 points to lead Troy (6-5). Jordan Vonardo added 17 points and eight rebounds, and Kevin Baker had 15 points. It has won three straight

After a pair of USC blocks and a Troy turnover, McLaughlin added two free throws with 13 seconds left. De’Anthony Felton added a free throw with 3 seconds left for the final margin.

“For us to be 10-0 with our lack of experience, to be without Bennie Boatwright, I’m so proud of our players,” Enfield said. “We’ve got a long way to go. We’ve still got a lot of things to improve. It’s a long season and there will be games like this.”

Trailing most of the way and by as many as 10 points, Southern California took a 70-68 lead on Stewart’s 3-pointer with 4:58 to play.

Metu hit a jumper in the lane and then made one of two free throws to pull USC even at 77 after Jeremy Hollimon’s three-pointer with 1:16 left had given Troy a 77-74 lead.

Up 40-38 at half, Troy reeled off a 10-2 spurt, opening its biggest lead 50-40 on a free throw by DeVon Walker with 16:45 to play. Troy led 60-51 on Walker’s layup with 12:35 to play.

BIG PICTURE:

Troy: Person is the son of former NBA player Wesley Person and nephew of former NBA player Chuck Person. The Trojans lost for the first time this season after leading at halftime. Saturday night’s game marked the first time the Trojans played a Top 25 team since playing at No. 17 Mississippi State on Dec. 10, 2011.

Southern California: This was the first time this season the Trojans trailed at half. USC won its 17th consecutive nonconference game at the Galen Center. Seven of their 10 wins this season have come on their home floor. USC played its third straight game without sophomore forward Boatwright, expected to be out six weeks with a sprained left knee injured on Nov. 30 against San Diego.

UP NEXT:

Troy: At Wyoming on Monday night.

Southern California: Host Cornell on Monday night.

THE UNDEFEATEDS: Which of those seven teams will last the longest?

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There are now just seven undefeated teams left in college basketball after TCU, Saint Mary’s, Notre Dame and Butler lost last week.

Today, we’ll take you through each of those seven teams, letting you know whether or not they are truly contenders or simply a product of their schedule while letting you know precisely when they are going to take their first loss.

TOP 25 TEAMS

No. 16 South Carolina (8-0): The Gamecocks are the easiest team on this list to pick. They’ve been steadily climbing in the polls because they’re undefeated and own wins over the likes of Michigan and Syracuse, and their defense is legit. As of today, they’re ranked fifth in KenPom.com’s defensive efficiency metric, and that’s not a fluke. Frank Martin’s club has veteran, tough and athletic guys at every spot on the floor that thrive in his overplaying, half-court man-to-man defense. The Gamecocks are real in the sense that they’re probably the second-best team in the SEC this season, but A) that isn’t saying all that much and B) those wins over Syracuse and Michigan looked much more impressive at the time than they do right now.

  • First loss will be 12/12 vs. Seton Hall, 8-0: The Gamecocks will be playing a game in the Barclays Center in Brooklyn against a good team from New Jersey without their best player in Sindarius Thornwell. Seton Hall isn’t going to be intimidated by over-aggressive defenses.

No. 24 USC Trojans (9-0): Once again, the Trojans are playing above their heads. For a team that entered the season with just four players that had played a second of basketball for USC prior to the season, it’s impressive that Enfield has managed to steer them to a 9-0 with wins at Texas A&M, at home against SMU and over BYU on a neutral court. It’s worth noting they’ve won four of those games without Bennie Boatwright, their starting four-man who has dealt with knee an back injuries.

  • First loss will be 12/30 at Oregon, 13-0: The Trojans will playing their second road game in three days when they play in Eugene, and by then, it’s probably fair to assume that this Oregon team, who was in the top five in the preseason will get things figured out. The key? When does Boatwright get back.
PROVIDENCE, RI - MARCH 17: Johnathan Motley #5 of the Baylor Bears looks on in the second half against the Yale Bulldogs during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 17, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Johnathan Motley (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

THEY CAN MAKE A FINAL FOUR

No. 4 Baylor (8-0): Baylor has been the most surprising team in college basketball this season. The Bears have piled up wins over Oregon, VCU, Michigan State, Louisville and Xavier, which is impressive of a résumé as you’ll find at this point in the season. If they can find a way to beat Kansas at some point during the regular season and win either a share of the Big 12 regular season title or the Big 12 tournament, the Bears could realistically end up getting a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. I’m not yet ready to say that Baylor is in the same class as the likes of KU, Kentucky, Duke, Villanova or UCLA, but I am ready to say that every single one of us missed wildly on how good Baylor would be this season.

  • First loss will be 1/10 at West Virginia, 15-0: The Mountaineers are another team we missed on in the preseason, and I think they provide a nightmare matchup for Baylor. The Bears strength is their front court, but that can get taken away by the pressure WVU provides. As good as he’s been this season, I’m not totally sold on Manu Lecomte yet. I think pressure can beat the Bears, and no one has a tougher press than Press Virginia.

No. 10 Creighton (10-0): Through the first month of the season, the Bluejays look like they might be the second-best team in the Big East as Xavier continues to try and figure out how they are going to make threes this season. Creighton doesn’t have that issue, as they rank second nationally in both effective field goal percentage and three-point percentage. Their top six three-point shooters are all shooting better than 40 percent from beyond the are, and three of those six are knocking down more than half of their three-point attempts. This team is more talented than the team Creighton had during Doug McDermott’s senior season.

  • First loss will be 1/16 at Xavier, 18-0: Xavier is still trying to find themselves, but there are two things you can count on with a program run by Chris Mack: toughness and defense will never, ever be an issue. They’re hard to beat in the Cintas Center and there’s a chance that Myles Davis will be back by then. I don’t want to bet against Xavier in a situation like that were they really need a win.
OMAHA, NE - NOVEMBER 15: Maurice Watson Jr. #10 of the Creighton Bluejays drives to the hoop past Jordan Hill #11 of the Wisconsin Badgers during their game at the CenturyLink Center on November 15, 2016 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
Maurice Watson Jr. (Eric Francis/Getty Images)

THEY CAN WIN A NATIONAL TITLE

No. 1 Villanova (10-0): The Wildcats managed to remain unbeaten thanks to a masterful performance from Josh Hart, who had 37 points and 11 boards to send No. 23 Notre Dame to their first loss of the season. Villanova is the reigning national champion, so of course they have the ability to repeat as national champs; like Buddy Hield and Denzel Valentine last season, Hart has really improved as a senior.

Villanova is also playing without Phil Booth, who has a knee injury. This group deserves to be in the same conversation as the likes of Duke, Kentucky, Kansas and UCLA, the biggest brands with the most talent in the sport. Jay Wright may not have NBA scouts beating down the doors of practice to get a look at the guys on his roster, but this veteran group is greater as a whole than the sum of their parts.

  • First loss will be 12/31 at Creighton, 13-0: Creighton has always been a tough matchup for Villanova because Creighton plays the same kind of small-ball, four-around-one style. What’s traditionally made Villanova so difficult for opponents to matchup with is that they create mismatches offensively because their players are versatile defenders. Creighton, however, can do the same thing. Cole Huff, the Bluejays four-man, can play as a small forward and is most comfortable on the perimeter. He will have no issues defending the lines of Eric Paschall or Kris Jenkins. Throw in the fact that Creighton packs 17,000 fans into their home games, and I think they can hand the Wildcats their first loss.

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No. 8 Gonzaga (10-0): Of the seven teams left without a loss, I think Gonzaga probably has the best chance to get to the NCAA tournament unblemished. Part of that is because they play in the West Coast Conference, a league every road game is their opponent’s Super Bowl but those opponents are decidedly mid-major competition. Gonzaga? They’re as high-major as high-major gets and have a roster that is stocked with talent.

Nigel Williams-Goss and Josh Perkins have played really well together in the back court, while Jordan Mathews works as a floor-spacer and Silas Melson has seemed to embrace his role within the team. But the front court is where this team is so exciting. Przemek Karnowski and Johnathan Williams III are veterans that fit well together, but there’s an argument to be made that their freshmen backups – Killian Tillie and Zach Collins – are the second-best front court pairing in the league. I think this is the best team that Mark Few has had in Spokane, and that includes the Adam Morrison and Kelly Olynyk years.

  • First loss will be 2/11 at Saint Mary’s, 25-0: This year is the first time that the Zags have reached 10-0 since joining Division I. They’ll have three real tests before their road trip to Moraga – they’re at Tennessee this weekend, they host the Gaels in mid-January and visit BYU in early February – but if they can get to this game unscathed, they’ll likely have a shot to be undefeated when the postseason comes around.

No. 2 UCLA (10-0): We mentioned earlier how Creighton’s offense is a powerhouse. Well, UCLA is the only team in the country that has a higher effective field goal percentage, a higher three-point percentage and they play at a faster pace. In fact, UCLA is currently shooting 47.1 percent from three. Only one team since 1997 has shot better than 45 percent from three, and that was Northern Colorado in 2011-12. That UNC team shot 16 threes per game. This UCLA team shoots 24.

In other words, it’s not crazy to say that this UCLA team could end up being the best three-point shooting team in college basketball history if they can find a way to keep up this pace through league play. But even if they don’t, this is not a team that relies entirely on the three-ball. They have a guy named Lonzo Ball – I don’t know if you’ve heard of him, he’s not bad – that makes them lethal in transition and has transformed that roster into one of the most unselfish in the country.

  • First loss will be 2/25 at Arizona, 28-0: I think UCLA can get past their road trip to Oregon three days after Christmas mostly because I think that the Bruins will have a bit of an advantage over USC; they play the Ducks on the first day of the road trip. The trip to play the Mountain teams (Colorado and Utah) is always tricky given the altitude, and that starts a stretch where they play five of seven on the road, including at USC and capped with a visit to Markelle Fultz and Washington. But I think this group gets through all that mostly because I think the Pac-12 is down this year. Where I think they get tripped up is at Arizona, who should have Parker Jackson-Cartwright (and maybe/hopefully Allonzo Trier) back and who should be getting the best out of Kobi Simmons and Rawle Alkins. That’s a fierce rivalry that only has fuel added to the fire by T.J. Leaf, a UCLA player that was originally an Arizona commit.
NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 10: Josh Hart #3 of the Villanova Wildcats takes a shot against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the first half of a college basketball game at Prudential Center on December 10, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. Villanova defeated Notre Dame 74-66. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
Josh Hart (Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

College Basketball Talk Top 25: Duke is back in the No. 1 spot

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I made some changes in my top 25 this week, and I did it for one reason and one reason only: I think Duke is the best team in college basketball.

And I get it. I might be the only one that ranks Duke No. 1 this week, because there are so many other teams with valid argument to be ranked above Duke.

  • Villanova was No. 1 last week and all they did was beat a city rival and then knock off No. 21 Notre Dame.
  • Kansas has already beaten Duke this season on a neutral court.
  • UCLA owns the most impressive win of the season, picking off Kentucky in Rupp Arena. Duke has beaten Florida, Rhode Island and Michigan State and played Kansas tough.
  • Baylor has the best résumé of anyone to date.

But these rankings are supposed to be used to determine who is the best team in the country, right?

RANKINGS: AP Poll | Coaches Poll | NBC Sports Top 25

And I think that Duke is the best team in college basketball. We all had them there in the preseason, before all of the injuries. Now that they’re getting back to full strength, we’re just going to ignore that fact because Frank Mason II hit a jumper and Villanova hasn’t given us a reason to drop them?

I guess I understand the logic, but it just seems silly to rank someone else No. 1 when you don’t think they’re the best team in the country.

Anyway, here is the NBCSports.com Top 25:

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1. Duke (10-1, Last Week: 4)
2. Villanova (10-0, 1)
3. UCLA (10-0, 2)
4. Kansas (9-1, 3)
5. Kentucky (9-1, 5)
6. North Carolina (10-1, 6)
7. Gonzaga (10-0, 7)
8. Baylor (8-0, 8)
9. Creighton (10-0, 9)
10. Indiana (8-1, 10)
11. Wisconsin (9-2, 11)
12. Louisville (9-1, 12)
13. West Virginia (8-1, 15)
14. Purdue (8-2, 14)
15. South Carolina (8-0, 17)
16. Xavier (8-2, 13)
17. Saint Mary’s (7-1, 14)
18. Virginia (8-1, 18)
19. Butler (9-1, 19)
20. USC (9-0, 21)
21. Notre Dame (9-1, 24)
22. Cincinnati (7-2, 19)
23. Oregon (9-2, NR)
24. Arizona (8-2, NR)
25. Texas A&M (7-2, NR)

DROPPED OUT: No. 21 Florida, No. 23 Syracuse, No. 25 Iowa State
NEW ADDITIONS: No. 23 Oregon, No. 24 Arizona, No. 25 Texas A&M