In the last 12 months, USC has been to the Elite Eight, reached its highest AP Top 25 ranking in 50 years, and won 25 regular-season games for the first time in program history. But with a late-season tumble (lost three of the last four), the Trojans head into the 2022 NCAA Tournament paired up against a tough Miami Hurricanes bunch.
Behind head coach Jim Larranaga, Miami packs an offensive punch to counter the length and defensive prowess of Andy Enfield's USC Trojans. The clash of styles shape one of the most seemingly balanced first-round games in this edition of March Madness.
"The biggest thing is for your players to really embrace the atmosphere, not to put a lot of pressure on themselves, but to really have fun playing basketball," Larranaga said at Thursday's press conference. "This is the culmination for them of all the hard work, all the dreams that they've had and the goals they've set for themselves and for the team, and when you get to that moment, if you all of a sudden start putting a lot of pressure on yourself, then you're not going to play nearly as well."
Midwest Region: No. 10 Miami Hurricanes (25-10) vs. No. 7 USC (26-7)
Time: Friday, March 18 at 3:10 p.m. ET
Where: Bon Secours Wellness Arena (Greenville, S.C.)
Spread: USC -1.5
Keys for Miami
Miami gives up quite a bit of size to USC, the fourth-tallest team in the nation per KenPom.com. The Hurricanes rank No. 212 in that regard, but it's done little to impact their offensive production. Miami's turnover percentage is comparable to that of USC's Pac-12 rival UCLA, which beat the Trojans twice late in the season thanks in part to outstanding ball protection.
Methodical possessions that free up shooters, moving the ball, and getting USC defenders out of position, is a key for the Hurricanes. The Trojans are the second-best defense in all of college basketball when it comes to defending inside the 3-point arc, but opponents have been able to find windows from deep. Miami's strength has been finding points on the interior in spite of its size, and Kameron McGusty, Sam Waardenburg and Charlie Moore's ability to hit from behind the line could stretch USC effectively.
Keys for USC
Asserting its size advantage offensively is paramount for USC. Isaiah Mobley was slowed by a late-season head injury, but remains one of the most versatile big men in the nation. His ability to score from a variety of spots on the floor and pass like a guard gives the Trojans some flexibility with how it attacks Miami's defense.
Likewise, 6-foot-9 guard Drew Peterson is a matchup nightmare with his length and variety of playmaking ability. Peterson comes into the NCAA Tournament shooting 41.1 percent from 3-point range, which complements his slashing. With those two setting the tone, Friday will be a prime opportunity for Chevez Goodwin to go to work inside.
This Midwest Region matchup offers a stark contrast that should ultimately benefit USC. The Trojans lost some depth with Reese Dixon-Waters out, but recently regaining Isaiah White to the lineup gives Enfield depth that should allow USC to play a physical game suited to its strengths.