The Providence College Friars left Madison Square Garden last Thursday not knowing their NCAA Tournament fate. Most saw the Friars making the Big Dance but nothing was certain. Friar fans didn’t have to wait long to hear their team’s name called, as the Friars are in the East Region and will have to start out in the First Four in Dayton, OH. The Friars will square off against the USC Trojans Wednesday evening, with tip off set for 9:10 pm. Friar fans are familiar with USC, as the Friars defeated the Trojans in the Round of 64 thriller in last season’s tournament. While Friar fans will remember the result of last year’s game but this USC team is a bit of an unknown, as the play on the West Coast. So let’s take the time here to learn a little bit more about the USC Trojans.
I consider myself a college basketball junkie and a nighthawk and typically they play hand-in-hand. Unlike many hoops fans on the East Coast, I actually stayed up late throughout the season to see a lot of PAC 12 games. The USC Trojans didn’t get as much national TV love as other teams in the PAC, including Arizona, Oregon, UCLA and Washington (only because of Markelle Fultz). I actually have not seen the Trojans play live this season. The Trojans (24-9, 10-8), under fourth year coach Andy Enfield, stormed out of the gates winning their first 14 games of the season. USC is led by sophomore forward Bennie Boatwright (14.6 ppg), although he did miss 17 games during the season with a knee injury. In the frontcourt Boatwright is paired with sophomore big man Chimezie Metu and he can really rock the rim. Jordan McLaughlin (13.1 ppg, 5.5 apg) leads the Trojans’ backcourt and he had a big game against the Friars last year scoring 15 points (7/12 from the floor). As a team USC is very explosive offensively scoring 78.7 points a game, which ranks 56th nationally. It is their defense that has been a big problem for the Trojans, as they give up 73.2 points a game (ranks 211th). The Friars strength this year is their defense so it will be interesting to see how that plays out against USC’s offense. So lets get right to it here are my keys to the game.
Keys to The Game
- Contain Metu– Wednesday’s game features two players that won their conference’s most improved player award, PC’s Kyron Cartwright and Chimezie Metu. Metu poses a matchup problem for the Friars, as he is really big and athletic. Metu is USC’s main post player and he also a guy the find in transition for slam-dunks. Emmitt Holt will need to front Metu in the post and must do his best to stay out of foul trouble. Limiting the turnovers will also help the Friars from getting USC in their transition game where they love to find Metu for a lob. The Friars did a solid job against Patton in their last game and they’re going to have to do the same on Metu.
- Take Care of The Basketball– This was a one of my keys to the game in their last contest and the Friars failed miserably. The Friars turned over the basketball 22 times in their Big East Tournament loss to Creighton. The Friars need to limit the turnovers to prevent USC from going on the fast break where they thrive. On top of that USC doesn’t turnover the ball that much either, as they are 30th in the nation in turnovers per game. The Friars want to lower their turnover number from last game by at least 8 turnovers if they want to win. The good news for the Friars is USC doesn’t force a ton of turnovers per game ranking 201st in the country.
- The 3 Ball– Wednesday’s First Four matchup between the Friars and Trojans will be won or lost at the three-point line. The Trojans tend to fall in love with the three-pointer, as they take 22 attempts per game and making them at a 36.1% clip. The Friars have done a great job defending the perimeter all season, as they are holding the opposition 32.7% shooting from deep (65th nationally). The Friars’ length allows them to switch a lot off screens and rotate to their man on the perimeter. On the flip side the USC Trojans have really struggled defending the three, allowing their opponents to shoot 36.5% from 3 (269th in the country). The Friars should be able to make a good amount of their attempts against the Trojans. The three-point line will be a major key towards who advances to the Round of 64.
A lot has changed since the last time the Providence Friars and USC Trojans met in the NCAA Tournament. The Friars lost Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil to the NBA Draft, while USC had to replace 3 of their 5 top scorers (Julia Jacobs, Nikola Jovanovic and Katin Reinhardt) but both teams found their way to the Big Dance. Both teams are also entering the tournament on two different trajectories. The Friars are 6-1 in their last 7 games, while the Trojans are only 3-4. The USC Trojans started 14-0 however they have gone 10-9 since. If you look at their schedule they really only have two good wins, vs. SMU and UCLA. While their athleticism and offensive prowess present problems for the Friars, I don’t see USC’s defense being able to hold up. The Friars won’t want to make this a track meet like they did against St. John’s but they should have the ability to score points in the game. Kyron Cartwright also will be playing against USC with a chip on his shoulder. The Compton native wanted to stay at home and play at USC but the Trojans didn’t want him. Also I know Cartwright and the Friars really want bounce back from the dud of a second half vs. Creighton. I don’t think the Friars will win at the buzzer this time but this game will end up being another close one. Friars move on to the Round of 64!
Friars 77 USC 72