By Andrew Kahn
After a four-year drought, USC is back in the NCAA Tournament. Andy Enfield, best known for taking Florida Gulf Coast to the Sweet 16, has the Trojans dancing in his third season. How did they get there?
Preseason expectation: Southern Cal won a combined five Pac-12 games in Enfield’s first two years, so when the media picked them to finish 10th in the league this year, ahead of only Washington and Washington State, it seemed fair. USC bloggers predicted similar results but hedged their bets with statements like ‘don’t be surprised if the Trojans steal a game or two from the Pac-12’s elite’. Only three rosters were less experienced than USC’s last season (by KenPom’s measure), and while this team is still very young, the nine players who saw the most minutes last year all returned. Plus, USC added two top-75 recruits.
November 26: USC improves to 5-0, its best start in 15 years, with a win over No. 22 Wichita State in the AdvoCare Invitational in Orlando. The Shockers were without star point guard Fred VanVleet, and their subsequent early season losses would dull this victory a bit for the Trojans, but it still proved USC was improved from a season ago. Freshman forward Bennie Boatright scores 22 points on 7-of-13 shooting.
November 27-29: The Trojans lose their next two games in the tournament, to Xavier and major conference slayer Monmouth, each by 10 points. USC had beaten Monmouth at home earlier in the season.
January 9: USC wins one of the most exciting games of the college hoops season against No. 7 Arizona. Elijah Stewart hits two free throws with 23 seconds left in the fourth overtime and the Trojans win 103-101. Stewart comes off the bench and scores a career-high 27 on 9-of-13 shooting (including 5-of-8 from deep).
January 18: The Trojans appear in the polls for the first time since November 17, 2008. They are 21 in the AP and 25 in the Coaches. The ranking comes on the heels of a victory at UCLA, the Trojans’ second Pac-12 road win of the season, more than their combined total from the previous two seasons.
February 28: USC loses its second game by at least 20 points, third straight overall, and fifth in its last six games. Once 7-3 in the Pac-12, the Trojans are now 8-8.
March 7: Junior guard Julian Jacobs, who averages 11.8 points, 5.5 assists, and 4.9 rebounds, makes the 10-man All-Pac-12 team. He is the first Trojan to be so honored since Nikola Vučević in 2011.
March 9-10: Southern Cal beats UCLA, 95-71, in the Pac-12 tournament but falls to Utah in the quarterfinals. They led the Bruins by 19 at half and coasted to their third victory against their rival this season. Not since they took home the title in 2009 has USC won more than one game in the conference tournament.
The road ahead: USC earned an 8 seed in the East Region and a Thursday matchup with Providence in Raleigh. Like most 8-9 games, it figures to be a tossup. The next game, all but certainly against No. 1 seed North Carolina, would not be. But hey, the Trojans shoot the three at 38.5 percent (28th in the country) and the Tar Heels are at just 31.4 percent (306th). Anything can happen in March.
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local who also writes for Newsday and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about college basketball and other sports at andrewjkahn.com and you can find his Scoop and Score podcast on iTunes. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn.