LOS ANGELES — For a college basketball team on the bubble of the NCAA tournament, it can be hard to win a bid in February or early March.
Conference schedules are grinds. League tournaments a crapshoot. Teams are tired by the end of the regular season. Leaving your postseason fate to the end of the schedule can be a treacherous prospect.
The ideal scenario for a team is to put together a strong résumé during nonconference play in November and December. Avoid bad losses and put together Quadrant 1 victories to entice the selection committee in three or four months.
The USC men failed in their first task, suffering a Quadrant 3 loss in the season opener to, of all teams, Florida Gulf Coast. Which makes it imperative that the Trojans (8-3) seize the moment on Sunday when No. 19 Auburn comes to the Galen Center.
“It’s a huge opportunity. A ranked team coming into our house, we gotta be able to take advantage of that,” sophomore guard Kobe Johnson said. “We had a bad loss first game of the year against FGCU, which really put us behind. To be able to close out this nonconference schedule with a couple wins, it would put us in a good spot.”
The Auburn game, USC’s penultimate in nonconference play, is a Quadrant 2 opportunity despite the Tigers’ AP rankings. Auburn is merely No. 49 in the NET rankings and USC is playing at home, which is how the selection committee determines strength of schedule.
But USC is 0-2 in Quad 1 and 2 games with losses to Tennessee and Wisconsin in the Bahamas, 1-1 in Quad 3 and 7-0 in Quad 4. So a Quadrant 2 victory would be a good first step in enhancing USC’s résumé.
“It’s a huge opportunity,” head coach Andy Enfield said. “We understand it. To put yourself in a position on a national scale, you have to beat good teams. And Auburn is certainly one of those.”
But USC also understands it needs to change up its play before facing the Tigers (9-1).
In Wednesday’s 88-78 win over Long Beach State, USC was outrebounded by a 50-32 margin, allowing 22 offensive rebounds. Auburn is ranked 23rd nationally with 13.3 offensive boards per game.
“They just outworked us on the rebounding perspective. When it comes to Sunday against Auburn, we gotta change that up,” Johnson said, pointing out LBSU’s 27 second-chance points in the game. “We can’t come nowhere close to that when we play Auburn because they’re a much better team, much more physical team. So we really gotta work on boxing out and putting a body on somebody.”
No. 19 Auburn (9-1) at USC (8-3)
When: 2: 30 p.m. Sunday
Where: Galen Center
TV/Radio: ESPN/AM 790