Dodge: The Pac-12 has an image problem. USC is the way out.

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January 25, 2018 by Sam Dodge

LOS ANGELES — There’s a Rodney Dangerfield problem for Pac-12 basketball.

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It gets no respect at all. The evidence is staggering.

Ken Pomeroy ranks the Pac-12 last amongst the six power conferences. Joe Lunardi sees only three bids for the NCAA tournament, seventh most nationally behind the AAC.

Jerry Palm of CBS Sports gives a modicum of credit, slating the conference above the Big Ten in his power rankings.

USC, standing with Arizona in the conference’s top-tier, is the only team capable of reversing the narrative.

First, a couple things out of the Trojans’ control.

Analytical gurus such as Ken Pomeroy and Bart Torvik don’t hold regional bias. They simply report the results of the algorithm they created.

Next, there’s the #P12AfterDark meme. USC and Stanford played for the top-contender spot in the conference at 9 p.m. EST on ESPNU. East coast viewers have to stay up until 10 p.m. on Feb. 8 to watch national brands Arizona and UCLA.

I am in the coveted 18 to 49 male demographic for televised college basketball. As a college student in Michigan, I never waited until midnight to watch USC/UCLA.

Chimezie Metu

(Michael Yanow)

I was at Wine Wednesday at Delta Gamma.

The part that’s in the conference’s control, and USC’s going forward, is the non-conference. From November to December, fans across the country got to see West Coast basketball up close.

The results here are mixed.

North Carolina State, SMU and Purdue swept conference frontrunner Arizona in the Bahamas. Sean Miller’s Wildcats — distracted early by their own FBI investigation — responded by beating previously No. 7 Texas A&M. One game later, they took down Alabama, currently tied for third in the SEC.

Arizona State and Washington both defeathered the No. 5 Kansas Jayhawks. On the flip side, unranked Virginia Tech defenestrated Washington 103-79.

What’s defenestration?

A lot of Pac-12 teams got thrown out of windows in the non-conference.

Cal lost by 24 to Division-II Chaminade. Washington State dropped one to UTEP, the No. 318 team per RPI. Even a contender like Stanford lost to Portland State, Long Beach State and Eastern Washington.

USC’s struggles are well-documented. No need to roll the tape on the bevy of injuries, suspensions and FBI distractions that crippled them against the likes of Oklahoma and SMU.

The Pete Thamel’s of the world saw a team at its most dysfunctional, and decided to discard it from the national discussion.

Arizona, USC and UCLA all let distractions — whether FBI or shoe-heist related — undermine the conference’s image in the early going.

The Trojans need to make noise with Arizona in March to change the national conversation.

UCLA v USC

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Fortunately, Andy Enfield has them congealing into an increasingly dangerous outfit.

The only loss in the last eight games is off Daejon Davis’ fluke shot. More importantly, they can win in different ways.

Prior to Washington, the nation’s No. 21 offense needed to carry all of the weight. It almost worked against Naismith candidate Trae Young and No. 12 Oklahoma.

Now, the defense sits at No. 2 defensively in the conference, limiting foes to 67 points a game in the last eight.

No Bennie Boatwright against Stanford? No problem, as Nick Rakocevic entered and contained future Pac-12 first team forward Reid Travis.

At 16-6 overall and 7-2 in conference, it’s not unrealistic to see USC winning out outside of a split versus the Arizona schools. With Bart Torvik’s Teamcast feature, you can plug in that result. There’s a 15 percent shot this will happen.

Not a slam dunk, but not miraculous.

This would elevate USC several seed lines, getting them in the four to six-seed range. USC would enter games against fringe Top-25 teams with:

  • An excellent, ball-handling point guard in Jordan McLaughlin. He still ranks No. 5 in assists nationally, and a guy like that comes in handy against the variety of exotic defenses you see in March.
  • Three 6-foot-11 trees in Chimezie Metu, Boatwright and Rakocevic. The first two give you a five-out offense, as all the starters average over 36 percent from three.
  • A generally surly team, playing angry since the official end of De’Anthony Melton’s season.

The country already know about the Arizona Wildcats. They consistently make the second weekend of the tournament, boasting four Sweet 16’s in the last five seasons.

USC is the one with the path to get more eyeballs on Pac-12 hoops.

If the quiet, steady improvement continues, the nation will notice come March.

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