USC TROJANS (24-9)
vs. PROVIDENCE FRIARS (20-12)
NCAA Tournament – First Four – University of Dayton Arena
Tip-off: Wednesday, 9:10 pm ET
Line: USC -2.5, Total: 140
After a first-round tournament thriller last year, USC and Providence run it back in the 2017 First Four.
In a rematch of a first-round thriller from last year’s NCAA Tournament, USC and Providence will square off as 11 seeds in Dayton late Wednesday night in the last of this year’s First Four matchups. A year ago, 9 seed Providence got by 8 seed USC on a last-second layup to advance to the round of 32, where they lost to 1 seed UNC by 19 points. This year’s edition will look quite a bit different, particularly for Providence, as the Friars lost both PG Kris Dunn and PF Ben Bentil to the NBA Draft. Despite the departure of talent, Providence returned this season to go 20-12 and 10-8 in the Big East, and they surprised prognosticators with a 20-12 record against the spread, one of the best in the nation. A 6-1 finish to the season, which included a stretch of consecutive wins over tournament teams Butler, Xavier, Creighton and Marquette (4-0 ATS), helped push the Friars into one of the selection committee’s final at-large bids. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, momentum seems to have been heading in the other direction for the Trojans, who went 13-0 against a soft non-conference slate before going 10-8 in a Pac-12 that had something of a down year as a league. At 24-9 (16-16 ATS), they did get marquee wins over SMU and UCLA, and they nearly beat the Bruins again in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 Tournament. Ken Pomeroy’s ratings are not particularly kind to either team, as Providence ranks 56th in the country and USC is 61st, both trailing several teams that didn’t earn tourney bids. USC favors better in RPI at 41st, while the Friars are also 56th in the country by that metric. StatFox Super Situations like this one to go under the total, as opening round tournament games featuring a team having won four of its last five games (PROV) are 34-7 Under against totals between 140 and 149.5 over the last five seasons.
USC ranks 46th in the country with an adjusted offensive efficiency rating of 112.5 points per 100 possessions, and 86th with an adjusted defensive rating of 100.2. They score the fourth most points per game in the Pac-12 at 78.7, are sixth in the conference with a 45.5% FG% and sixth with a 36.6% 3P%. The offense is a balanced attack, as the Trojans’ four leading scorers all average between 12.4 and 14.6 PPG. The 14.6 is 6-foot-10 sophomore F Bennie Boatwright (14.6 PPG, 4.3 RPG), who missed just over half of the team’s games this season with a knee injury. He stretches the floor for SC as the team’s leader in three-point attempts per game, and hits at a decent rate of 36.2%. He only shoots 40.2% from the floor, however. He’s 6-of-21 shooting in his last two games combined. Fellow F Chimezie Metu (14.5 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.5 BPG) is effectively the team’s center, as the 6-foot-11 sophomore starts alongside Boatwright and leads the team in rebounding and blocked shots. He had one of his best games of the season against Washington in the Pac-12 Tournament, scoring 24 points and grabbing nine boards. G Jordan McLaughlin (13.1 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 5.5 APG, 1.5 SPG) controls the tempo for USC, and he is third in the Pac-12 in assists this season. He can score the rock, too, as he has at least 16 points in three of his last four games. Guards De’Anthony Melton (8.7 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 3.4 APG, 2.0 SPG, 1.0 BPG) and Shaqquan Aaron (8.3 PPG, 3.4 RPG) round out the starting lineup, and the freshman Melton in particular can impact a game with his defensive prowess: he has at least three steals in each of the Trojans’ last four games. USC went with an eight-man rotation in their conference tournament, and you can expect the same going forward. G Elijah Stewart (12.4 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.2 BPG) has played starter’s minutes all season as the team’s sixth man, and G Jonah Mathews (7.3 PPG) and F Nick Rakocevic (5.2 PPG, 3.9 RPG) are key contributors, as well.
Providence’s adjusted offensive efficiency rating of 108.1 points per 100 possessions is underwhelming at 108th in the nation, but their adjusted defensive rating of 95.2 is strong at 33rd. They average 70.3 points per game, second from last in the 10-team Big East. Their 43.3% field goal percentage is third worst in the league, but their three-point percentage is fourth at 36.8%. USC fans will certainly remember Friars F Rodney Bullock (15.7 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 1.2 SPG), who ended their season last year with his clutch end-of-game layup. This year, he’s taken on a much bigger role for Providence, leading the team in scoring, rebounding and steals. Very recently, though, he’s been somewhat ineffectual: After six straight games of double-digit scoring, he only had seven total points in his last two games on 2-of-12 shooting. Part of that can be chalked up to foul trouble two games ago against St. John’s, but he was even worse in 32 minutes in a loss to Creighton. He’ll need to get back on track for Providence to advance. That said, he’s far from a one-man show. G Kyron Cartwright (11.4 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 6.7 APG, 1.1 SPG) leads the Big East in assists by a mile, and he’s fourth in the nation in that category. He can stuff the stat sheet on any given night, as he did against St. John’s with eight points, eight rebounds, seven assists and three steals. Joining Cartwright in the starting backcourt are guards Jalen Lindsey (10.2 PPG, 4.3 RPG) and freshman Alpha Diallo (5.7 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 0.9 SPG), each of whom is an intimidating presence on defense at 6-foot-7. Diallo has come on strong as a rebounder recently with at least eight of them in three straight games. Lindsey is a marksman at 46.1% from deep, leading the team in both three-point attempts and makes. Starting F Emmitt Holt (12.4 PPG, 5.2 RPG) is also 6-foot-7, and he’s the team’s second-leading rebounder and scorer behind Bullock. He led the team with 18 points in their recent loss to Creighton. G Isaiah Jackson (5.7 PPG, 2.5 RPG) is the x-factor off the bench—he has scored in double digits in three of the team’s last four games—and G Maliek White (2.6 PPG) and F Kalif Young (3.3 PPG, 3.3 RPG) will see minutes, as well.