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Transcendent star or overhyped, just hope Ben Simmons’ season doesn’t end in irrelevance

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BROOKLYN — The nation got its first really good look at college basketball’s biggest star on Monday night, as LSU freshman Ben Simmons — the No. 1 recruit in his class and the current favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft — lived up to the hype he’s garnered through the season’s first two weeks.

That’s saying a lot, mind you.

Simmons gets compared to LeBron on a daily basis.

So it’s no small feat when I say that he lived up to the hype of being compared to the best basketball player this planet has ever seen, even if it is for one game. But on Monday night at Barclays Center, Simmons looked every bit the part of a potential No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft. He finished with 21 points, 20 boards, seven assists and two steals, numbers that would have been even more impressive had the rest of the Tigers shot better than 35.6 percent from the floor.

He was phenomenal. There’s really no other way to put it. He was unstoppable in transition. His vision and passing ability was on full-display. He attacked the offensive glass. He even took a critical charge on his freshman counterpart, Marquette’s Henry Ellenson, late in the game, a play that fouled Ellenson out and earned LSU a crucial possession.

It was a pleasure to watch, thrilling enough that LSU-grad Odell Beckham Jr. of the New York Giants made his way to Brooklyn to see it.

And it was all for naught.

No. 23 LSU lost to the Golden Eagles in a fun-but-brutally-sloppy game in the semifinals of the Legends Classic, 81-80. The two teams spent 40 minutes running up and down the floor in what felt like a heavyweight clash at Peach Jam, the biggest and best AAU tournament of the summer.

Pretty, it was not, but given Simmons’ skill-set, it was the perfect setting to showcase what he can do.

“We know the potential in how good ben is and what he’s capable of providing for this team,” LSU head coach Johnny Jones said.

He’s at his best in the open floor, when he can grab a defensive rebound and go coast-to-coast. Given the fact that he’s 6-foot-10, he can hold his own on the defensive end of the floor playing at the four and, if he has to, the five. It creates all kinds of matchup problems for opponents. There were long stretches where Marquette was forced to have 7-foot center Luke Fischer guards Simmons.

That’s why things like this happen:

“He’s a very unique and talented player,” Marquette head coach Steve Wojciechowski said. “Because of his size and athletic and ability to handle the ball, he’s a unique matchup.”

Just how unique and talented he truly is has been a topic of debate. It’s clear that he’s a terrific prospect. I’m not even sure his doubters would argue that. But whether he’s one of, if not the best prospect in a down draft year or the kind of player that can transform an NBA franchise for the next decade is a debate that will rage on for a long time. Through the NBA Draft, into his rookie year, perhaps beyond.

Whether or not you truly embrace the debate, the truth is that this is what draws people to sports. He’s a special talent doing special things in a game that can be watched on any TV, tablet or cell phone in the country. When he goes for 21, 20 and seven in that setting, he’s going to be talked about. He’s going to trend on twitter even though the Patriots are playing on Monday Night Football at the same time. And everyone is going to have an opinion on him. Is he the best since LeBron? Is he a Lamar Odom clone? Royce White? Shawn Marion?

But more than anything, he is a topic of discussion, one that will draw eyeballs when he plays on a stage like this.

The question, however, is just how often he will play on a stage like this.

Let’s call it like it is: this LSU team has questions they need answered. The Marquette team they lost to on Monday? They entered the game 1-2 on the season. They lost to Belmont at home. The beating they took against Iowa last week was as bad as any loss we’ve seen this season. Their only win came over IUPUI. At home, in overtime.

“We’re so far from being a finished product,” Wojciechowski said. “We have a lot of things that we have to work hard to earn.”

The Tigers are talented. No one in their right mind will argue that. But fair or not, Johnny Jones has a reputation for fielding teams that fail to play up to their talent level. It’s far too early to say that’s happening again — if anything, Marquette has been the underachiever this month — but there is a reason why a team that has a talent like Simmons surrounded by the likes of Antonio Blakeney, Tim Quarterman, Brandon Sampson and, eventually, Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor is barely sneaking into the AP top 25.

They were not in our top 25 this week, and they’ll no longer be in the AP top 25 when the new poll comes out.

In other words, as it stands today, this isn’t a team that’s expected to compete for the SEC title; giving the likes of Vanderbilt and Texas A&M a run for a top two finish would be considered a success. They’re not a team expected to make it out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament, not if Simmons can play this well in a loss to a team picked to finish in the bottom half of the Big East.

“We can’t ask him to put up those kind of numbers night in and night out,” Jones said. “He was forced tonight to be in a position to put up 21 and 20.”

And therein lies the danger of a one-and-done talent going to a school outside what is considered to be the traditional contenders. Simmons isn’t the only one learning that this year; Malik Newman is struggling to find his way on a bad Mississippi State team. Stephen Zimmerman is a projected lottery pick on a projected NIT team. Even Ellenson is in danger of fading into the obscurity of being on the wrong side of the bubble.

It draws to mind Michael Beasley*.

*(I realize that I’ve compared Simmons to three guys — Odom, White and Beasley — who don’t, shall we say, have sterling off-the-court reputations. That’s not an insinuation that he’s a knucklehead off the floor; no one I’ve spoken too believes that to be the case at all. He just happens to have a game that’s similar to guys that carried red flags with them.)

If you don’t remember, Beasley was a revelation during his one season at Kansas State. He averaged 26.2 points and 12.4 boards and was good enough that the Chicago Bulls actually considered picking him over hometown hero Derrick Rose. But he was also on a team that finished 21-12 overall, never threatened for a league title, lost in the first round of the Big 12 tournament and the Round of 32 in the NCAA tournament.

They were, more or less, irrelevant nationally, an after thought in a year where four No. 1 seeds reached the Final Four.

And my fear is that Simmons is heading down that same path, that his one season of college basketball will be boiled down to the two games where he gets a chance to square off with Kentucky.

The beauty of the 2015 season was that the best teams in the country not only were the most recognizable, they also had the most relevant players. It extended to the Final Four, which included the two best players (Frank Kaminsky and Jahlil Okafor), the two most talented teams (Duke and Kentucky) and the two guys everyone thought, at the time, could be the No. 1 pick (Okafor and Karl Towns).

That won’t happen this season, not unless LSU and Kris Dunn’s Providence team find a way to win four straight games this March.

Does that mean Simmons made a mistake going to LSU?

Of course not.

Family matters to him — his mother and father were both in attendance in Brooklyn on Monday night — and he’s playing this season on a team where his Godfather, David Patrick, is an assistant coach. It’s a great story, one that will deservedly be retold over and over again, particularly if he can manage to carry LSU to a big year.

But it would be a shame if his one season at this level ends anywhere other than Houston.

Bubble Banter: It’s that time of year again!

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It’s getting to be that time of year.

Bubble Banter is back, baby!

Over the course of the next three days, we are going to be diving headlong into bubble chatter right here, breaking down every single team that is on or near the bubble for the NCAA tournament Field of 68. This, of course, is according to our Dave Ommen, who sent me a list of all the bubble teams. Our cut-off, at least for this conversation, is teams that currently sit as a No. 9 seed or better in the most recent bracket that we released.

Why?

Because — with the notable exception of Ohio State — it is difficult to see how any of those teams can end up out of the NCAA tournament before our next bracket projection gets published on Monday.

So, you know, they’re not currently on the bubble.

Anyway, come back throughout the weekend to see who the winners and the losers are and what it means for their standing in regards to the cut line.

FRIDAY

Wisconsin at PURDUE, 7:00 p.m.
YALE at Brown, 7:00 p.m.

SATURDAY

VCU at La Salle, 12:00 p.m.
PITT at SYRACUSE, 12:00 p.m.
ST. JOHN’S at DEPAUL, 2:00 p.m.
VIRGINIA TECH at Boston College, 2:00 p.m.
LSU at TEXAS, 2:00 p.m.
OKLAHOMA at MISSISSIPPI STATE, 2:00 p.m.
RHODE ISLAND at St. Bonaventure, 3:00 p.m.
UNCG at Samford, 3:00 p.m.
AKRON at Ohio, 3:30 p.m.
LIBERTY at Stetson, 4:00 p.m.
Chattanooga at EAST TENNESSEE STATE, 4:00 p.m.
N.C. STATE at Georgia Tech, 4:00 p.m.
SMU at MEMPHIS, 4:00 p.m.
TENNESSEE at No. 3 Kansas, 4:00 p.m.
BYU at San Francisco, 5:00 p.m.
No. 7 Dayton at RICHMOND, 6:00 p.m.
No. 15 Kentucky at No. 18 TEXAS TECH, 6:00 p.m.
Kansas State at ALABAMA, 6:00 p.m.
Washington State at UTAH, 7:00 p.m.
NOTRE DAME at No. 5 Florida State, 8:00 p.m.
SAINT MARY’S at LMU, 9:00 p.m.
WASHINGTON at No. 23 Colorado, 9:00 p.m.
No. 22 Arizona at ARIZONA STATE, 9:30 p.m.
Colorado State at UTAH STATE, 10:00 p.m.

SUNDAY

VIRGINIA at Wake Forest, 12:00 p.m.
No. 11 Michigan State at MINNESOTA, 3:00 p.m.
Fordham at SAINT LOUIS, 3:00 p.m.
XAVIER at Creighton, 4:00 p.m.
Loyola-Chicago at NORTHERN IOWA, 4:00 p.m.
OHIO STATE at Northwestern, 6:30 p.m.

Best Bets: Previewing Baylor-Florida, Texas Tech-Kentucky

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As always, the Vegas lines are not out for the weekend games, so we will be breaking them down using KenPom, Torvik and Haslametric projections.

FRIDAY

MARQUETTE at No. 13 BUTLER, 9:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Butler 72, Marquette 66
  • TORVIK: Butler 72, Marquette 66
  • HASLAM: Butler 71, Marquette 64
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: Butler 70, Marquette 64

In theory, this is an ideal buy-low spot for Butler. They are coming off of three straight losses, the last two of which came on the road. The loss at DePaul was a bad matchup, and the loss at Villanova was a result of Sean McDermott and Jordan Tucker shooting a combined 1-for-12 from three until the final minute of a 15-point loss.

Marquette, on the other hand, is in a prime sell-high spot. The Golden Eagles have won three in a row. Two of them came at home and the third was at Georgetown, a team that is down to just seven scholarship players. Trying to predict the nights that Markus Howard doesn’t score 30-plus is more or less impossible, but I do think that it is worth noting Butler is 12th nationally in defensive three-point field goal percentage and has a couple of quality perimeter defenders they can throw at him.

BEST BET: The logic says to bet Butler here. The problem is that, at Butler (-6) or (-6.5), I don’t think we’re buying Butler low or selling Marquette high. KenPom and Torvik both have the line at (-6) while Haslam has it at (-7). I was hoping to get it at (-5) or lower, which is unfortunate. Either way, if I’m going to be betting this game — which, let’s be honest, is probably going to happen — it will be with Butler.

Oh, and Butler is unveiling Butler IV, their new puppy, tonight. Never fade the puppy play.

SATURDAY

No. 15 KENTUCKY at No. 18 TEXAS TECH, 6:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Texas Tech 67, Kentucky 64
  • TORVIK: Texas Tech 67, Kentucky 64
  • HASLAM: Texas Tech 69, Kentucky 63
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

The more I think about this, the more I like the Texas Tech side here. I do think that the Red Raiders have one of the best coaching staffs when it comes to developing and instituting a game-plan. That’s a problem for a Kentucky team that tends to be fairly limited in what they run offensively. Put another way, Kentucky tends to figure out what works for them and run it over and over and over again. Their playbook shrinks as the season progresses, and that’s the kind of thing that Chris Beard and Mark Adams can take advantage of.

This is also a good buy-low spot for Texas Tech, considering that they are coming home off of a loss at TCU.

On the other side of the ball, I do worry about Texas Tech’s ability to create offense. They have struggled on that end, and I don’t think they actually have the front court pieces to be able to pull Nick Richards out of the paint.

BEST BETS: I’ll be curious to see where the line opens up here. I lean Texas Tech at anything (-4) and below, and I hope that the Kentucky effect can push that line much lower. I also will be on the under. If I think Texas Tech will have trouble to score, and Kentucky will have trouble to score, it only makes sense.

No. 1 BAYLOR at FLORIDA, 6:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Baylor 65, Florida 64
  • TORVIK: Baylor 65, Florida 63
  • HASLAM: Baylor 65, Florida 64
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

Baylor feels like they’re due for a loss, right?

They needed to erase a 12-point second half deficit at Oklahoma State last weekend. On Monday night, they nearly had Austin Reaves hitting a three in the final seconds to give Oklahoma a win in Waco. And now they are heading back out on the road to take on a Florida team that has been better of late?

Here’s to hoping that this line gets inflated because of the number next to Baylor’s name.

I also believe that the under is in play here. Baylor is one of the nation’s best defensive teams. Florida has not been as good on that end of the floor of late, but they, too, have shown flashes of being able to guard. They also matchup well with the Bears. But more importantly, I don’t believe that either of these teams are going to try and push the tempo. Florida has shown a frustrating determination to play possession by possession this season, while the Bears rank 269th in average offensive possession length.

BEST BET: I’ll be targeting the Florida ML here, particularly if the Gators end up getting points, but taking the under seems like the best play in this game.

No. 8 VILLANOVA at PROVIDENCE, 12:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Villanova 70, Providence 68
  • TORVIK: Providence 70, Villanova 69
  • HASLAM: Villanova 68, Providence 66
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

It’s not going to feel comfortable, but this feels like a good spot to take Providence. Villanova has won five in a row and 11 of their last 12, but their last four games have been played at home. They’ve failed to cover in two of their last three games and are just 1-3 against the spread on the road this season.

Providence has lost back-to-back games on the road, covering the spread in both games, and have covered in six of their last eight games.

BEST BET: I’ll be on the Providence side, but whether I take the Providence ML or take the points will depend on what the line opens up at.

No. 21 ILLINOIS at MICHIGAN, 12:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Michigan 71, Illinois 68
  • TORVIK: Michigan 71, Illinois 68
  • HASLAM: Michigan 71, Illinois 69
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

The logic here is going to be exceedingly simple: Illinois is as hot as any team in the country right now. They’ve won five straight games, including wins at Wisconsin and at Purdue, the latter of which was by 17 points. Michigan, on the other hand, has not been the same team since they lost Isaiah Livers to a groin injury and, since January 1st, they’ve ranked 127th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to Torvik.

BEST BET: I’ll be all over the Illinois ML, especially if this line opens up at Illinois (+3).

TENNESSEE at No. 3 KANSAS, 4:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Kansas 68, Tennessee 54
  • TORVIK: Kansas 68, Tennessee 54
  • HASLAM: Kansas 70, Tennessee 50
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

Kansas ranks No. 1 nationally in adusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. They’re third in Torvik’s rating system. Since Lamonte Turner saw his season come to an end, Tennessee has ranked 251st nationally if adjusted offensive efficiency. The one point guard on their roster, freshman Santiago Vescovi, is averaging 5.0 turnovers per game despite playing just 24.5 minutes — to be fair, he had 21 turnovers in his first three games and has had just nine in the last three.

BEST BETS: I think Kansas rolls here after a week of hearing how bad they are because of Tuesday night’s fight.

SUNDAY

No. 17 MARYLAND at INDIANA, 1:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Maryland 67, Indiana 66
  • TORVIK: Indiana 67, Maryland 65
  • HASLAM: Maryland 66, Indiana 64
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

Maryland is 1-4 on the road this season. Their one win came at Northwestern in a game where they trailed by 14 points in the first half. The Terps might be the worst road team in the Big Ten, a league where road teams have been terrible this season.

BEST BET: If Indiana is getting points, take the ML. I also will be interested in betting the Indiana first half line. Fade Turgeon is in full effect this weekend.

No. 11 MICHIGAN STATE at MINNESOTA, 3:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Michigan State 72, Minnesota 71
  • TORVIK: Michigan State 72, Minnesota 71
  • HASLAM: Michigan State 72, Minnesota 70
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

This is a tough spot for me. Michigan State has not been great away from East Lansing this season and they are coming off of a road loss at Indiana on Thursday night. That said, their loss came after erasing a 16-point first half deficit in a game where Xavier Tillman missed a wide-open layup that would have forced overtime.

BEST BET: I will be staying away from this game.

Kentucky’s Kahlil Whitney is leaving school

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Kentucky will be down a five-star recruit for the rest of the season.

Kahlil Whitney, who was the No. 11 prospect in the Class of 2019, according to 247 Sports’ composite ranking, announced on Friday that he will be leaving the Kentucky program.

“My time at Kentucky has not gone as I had hoped,” Whitney wrote in a statement released on his twitter page, “and I therefore need to make a difficult decision quickly to put myself back in to the best position possible as I continue to develop and work towards my ultimate goal.

“I’ve realized since high school that the business of basketball waits for no one, and sometimes tough choices need to be made in order to progress.”

Whitney was a starter early on in the season for the Wildcats, but he has been relegated to a limited role off the bench since league play started. He’s averaged 3.3 points in less than 13 minutes. In the last seven games he’s averaging just 6.1 minutes.

Whitney’s statement does not mention transferring, but if he did opt to head to a different school, he will not be eligible to play until 2021-22 without a waiver.

Bracketology: The top seeds remain in place

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Here is the latest NCAA tournament bracketology projection.

It’s been a while since we could say this:  All four No. 1 seeds remained in place between bracket updates: Baylor, Gonzaga, Kansas and San Diego State.

Elsewhere, more than a handful of teams still have significant resume questions.  And several current bubble teams have important showdowns this weekend – including key matchups in the Big 12 / SEC Challenge.

On a closing note … remember that the Selection Committee evaluates a team’s entire profile, from beginning to end.  How a team performed in its last ten games is no longer an official criteria (although each Committee member may have his or her own perspective on its importance).  So while Ohio State and Michigan, as examples, have both struggled of late, each team’s early wins remain relevant considerations with regard to team sheet evaluation.

The latest look at where our NCAA tournament bracketology projection stands …

UPDATED: January 24, 2020

FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
EAST REGION Oklahoma vs. VCU
MIDWEST REGION Minnesota vs. Texas Tech
SOUTH REGION  PR VIEW AM vs. NORFOLK ST
WEST REGION MONMOUTH vs. ROBERT MORRIS

SOUTH Houston                  WEST – Los Angeles 
Omaha Spokane
1) BAYLOR 1) GONZAGA
16) PV-AM / NORFOLK ST 16) MONMOUTH / ROB MORRIS
8) USC 8) Wichita State
9) Michigan 9) Arkansas
St. Louis Sacramento
5) Butler 5) Arizona
12) EAST TENNESSEE ST 12) AKRON
4) Maryland 4) Iowa
13) S.F. AUSTIN 13) NEW MEXICO ST
Albany Greensboro
6) Wisconsin 6) Marquette
11) Virginia Tech 11) NC State
3) Villanova 3) West Virginia
14) COLGATE 14) LITTLE ROCK
Tampa Spokane
7) Rutgers 7) Indiana
10) Memphis 10) BYU
2) Florida State 2) Oregon
15) AUSTIN PEAY 15) UC-IRVINE
EAST – New York MIDWEST – Indianapolis
Sacramento Omaha
1) SAN DIEGO STATE 1) Kansas
16) WINTHROP 16) MONTANA
8) STANFORD 8) HOUSTON
9) Florida 9) Ohio State
Tampa Cleveland
5) Penn State 5) Creighton
12) LIBERTY 12) YALE
4) Kentucky 4) DAYTON
13) VERMONT 13) NORTH TEXAS
Greensboro St. Louis
6) Auburn 6) Colorado
11) Oklahoma / VCU 11) Minnesota / Texas Tech
3) Duke 3) LOUISVILLE
14) WRIGHT STATE 14) LOYOLA-CHICAGO
Albany Cleveland
7) Illinois 7) LSU
10) Saint Mary’s 10) DePaul
2) SETON HALL 2) MICHIGAN STATE
15) WILLIAM & MARY 15) SOUTH DAKOTA ST

BUBBLE NOTES
Last 4 Byes Last 4 IN      First 4 OUT Next 4 OUT
Saint Mary’s Oklahoma Xavier Arizona State
DePaul Minnesota Richmond Alabama
Virginia Tech Texas Tech Georgetown Mississippi State
NC State VCU Rhode Island Tennessee

Top Seed Line
Baylor, Gonzaga, Kansas, San Diego State
Seed List

Breakdown by Conference …
Big Ten (11)
Big East (6)
ACC (5)
SEC (5)

Big 12 (5)
Pac 12 (5)
American (3)

West Coast (3)
Atlantic 10 (2)
Mountain West (1)

Duarte’s 30 points leads No. 12 Oregon past USC 79-70 in double OT

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EUGENE, Ore. — Paying close attention paid off for Oregon’s Chris Duarte.

The junior guard had 30 points, 11 rebounds and eight steals, and the No. 12 Ducks outlasted Southern California 79-70 in double overtime Thursday night.

“I was watching the point guard’s eyes. I was watching everybody’s eyes. So I knew where they were going to pass the ball,” Duarte said. “So I took that as an advantage.”

Oregon teammate Payton Pritchard added 24 points and seven assists, becoming the first Pac-12 player to reach 1,500 career points, 600 assists and 500 rebounds. When the achievement was noted on the video scoreboard at Matthew Knight Arena in the second half, the crowd gave the senior guard a standing ovation.

Pritchard is the sixth player in Pac-12 history with 1,500 points and 600 assists, joining Oregon State’s Gary Payton, Arizona’s Damon Stoudamire and Jason Gardner, USC’s Jordan McLaughlin and UCLA’s Tyus Edney.

Oregon (16-4, 5-2) led by 11 in the second half but USC rallied with a 17-2 run to take a 62-58 lead, capped by Jonah Mathews’ 3-pointer with 1:24 left.

C.J. Walker and Pritchard hit consecutive layups to tie it at 62 and send the game to overtime.

Pritchard’s 3-pointer in the first extra period gave the Ducks a 65-64 lead, but Ethan Anderson’s layup and free throw put the Trojans up by two. Duarte made free throws for the Ducks to tie it again, and Mathews and Pritchard both missed shots down the stretch.

Duarte and Pritchard each hit a pair of free throws that gave Oregon a four-point advantage to open the second overtime. Duarte’s 3-pointer put the Ducks up 74-68, and USC couldn’t catch up.

Duarte’s eight steals were one shy of the school record.

“He was the difference in the game,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “No doubt about it.”

Onyeka Okongwu had 23 points and 14 rebounds for the Trojans (15-4, 4-2).

“You’ve got to take care of the ball. Some ill-timed passes that went to the other guys. We just have to make the right basketball play,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “Give them credit, they’re a good defensive team.”

It was Oregon’s third overtime game in league play.

Oregon was coming off a 64-61 overtime win at Washington last weekend. The Ducks overcame a 16-point deficit and won it on Pritchard’s 3-pointer with 3.4 seconds left. But Oregon lost to Washington State 72-61 last Thursday, resulting in a fall from No. 8 to No. 12 in the AP Top 25.

USC had won nine of its last 10 games and three straight, including last Saturday’s 82-78 overtime victory against Stanford. The Trojans came back from a 21-point deficit in the second half to beat the Cardinal.

The Ducks built an early 15-7 lead after Duarte’s fast-break layup and 3-pointer. Oregon stayed in front, but USC closed to 24-23 on Daniel Utomi’s jumper.

The teams went to the break with Oregon ahead 32-30. Utomi led all scorers with 10 points.

Okongwu’s layup for USC tied it at 32 to start the second half but the Ducks responded with a 10-0 run, capped by Duarte’s jumper off a dish from Pritchard. Okongwu’s dunk ended the Trojans’ scoring drought.

Okongwu made consecutive baskets to pull USC to 56-53, and Matthews tied it with a 3-pointer to top off an 11-0 Trojans run. Pritchard answered with a layup for Oregon.

Freshman forward Chandler Lawson’s layup stretched the Ducks’ lead to 49-38 midway through the second half.

“A lot of things we’ve got to work on. But we got some defensive stops when we needed it, we got some big rebounds when we needed it, and just found a way to win the game,” Altman said. “We’ve been doing that too much, though. We’ve got to find a way to get our offense cranked a little bit.”

Lawson made his first start for the Ducks after he had 16 points and 12 rebounds against Washington. Oregon was without center N’Faly Dante, who was questionable for the game after hurting his knee against the Huskies.

Pritchard was one of just two Division I players averaging at least 19 points, five assists and four rebounds per game, joining Pepperdine’s Colbey Ross.

BIG PICTURE

USC: The Trojans started 4-1 in conference play for the first time since 2016. USC went 5-0 to open conference play in 2002. … Enfield said afterward that this loss stung. “We’ve played a few close games this year. We won three or four close ones,” he said. “We were right there and we lost. It hurts when you lose a game and have a chance.”

Oregon: Pritchard is closing in on Oregon’s career record of 614 assists held by Kenya Wilkins. … Pritchard has won 96 games as a Ducks player, one shy of Oregon’s career leader, Johnathan Lloyd. … Sabrina Ionescu, star guard for the No. 4 Oregon women, was at the game and was interviewed by the Pac-12 broadcast team during the first half.

UP NEXT

USC visits Oregon State on Saturday.

Oregon hosts UCLA on Sunday.