Earlier in our football-free week here at USC, we talked about the loneliness, the disconnectedness for Trojans basketball fans as March Madness moves on.
Then we decided, inspired by all sorts of "challenges," from the likes of Scout.com and ESPN, we'd challenge ourself on this opening day of the NCAA tournament.
We'd challenge ourselves to prove that we were wrong earlier in the week, that there really is a way for a USC person who cares about hoops to connect to the tournament Americans are wagering $9 billion on this month.
So we decided we'd go game-by-game, making a connection from a Trojan basketball perspective. Could we do it? Let's see. Here they are, 16 games starting at 9:15 in the a.m. And other than a couple of commercials filmed on the USC campus that run during the day, can we connect to Troy here?
*** Northeastern/Notre Dame: How about a football fix from the fall to start here. Stopped by private school Northeastern on the Boston College trip in September. Nice campus for 13,000 students just out of downtown. As for Notre Dame, USC fans will long remember the November romp so we can connect to this game in the most Trojan of ways. Because, as they say . . . football.
*** UAB/Iowa State: Got to know the late Gene Bartow (after UCLA) when he was putting UAB hoops on the map. Well the Blazers are still there to the chagrin of Fred Hoiberg, the mayor of Ames, who shows you the way to get it done, as Tim Floyd did before him, and survive in Ames, Iowa. This year he did it with six of his eight players coming in as transfers. As the team in near-USC colors but un-USC-like results shows every year, you have to find a way. No excuses.
*** Georgia State/Baylor: Two coaches who knew each other from their -- and my -- Indiana days show you it can be done. Valparaiso's Scott Drew resurrected Baylor from its near-death-penalty days and Ron Hunter, after getting one commuter school with absolutely no hoops tradition to the tournament -- IUPUI -- took another, Georgia State there, thanks to his son on a day when it pays to be coaching your son -- as long as he can shoot the three. But the big USC connection here is Trojans transfer Curtis Washington, the quiet 6-foot-10 kid from Elizabethtown, Ky., who had nine points and eight rebounds in 37 minutes to help GSU advance. He and Byron Wesley are the two Trojans still standing.
*** Texas Southern/Arizona: Another coach who we knew from his Indiana days, TSU's Mike Davis, was overmatched again by an Arizona team that by definition represents the Pac-12 but my Xavier guy Sean Miller's Wildcat team is much more Kentucky or Louisville, Carolina or Duke, than it is a Pac-12 program. Although we're sure the Pac-12 will take credit for them.
*** Texas/Butler: Butler's Hinkle Fieldhouse is one of the great shrines to basketball and always makes us smile the times we get to Indy to stop by. Texas gets us thinking back to when Trojans basketball was something to be feared and/or respected. We were there in Spokane for the Trojans' 2007 NCAA takedown of Kevin Durant & Co. in maybe the best performance we can recall from a USC team in our time here.
*** UCLA/SMU: Trying not to think about the Bruins who didn't belong here in the first place and won't belong in Saturday's game against UAB to advance to the Sweet 16 in a replay of these two teams' memorable matchup for seventh place in the Battle 4 Atlantis in November. And now thanks to that official 30 feet away who decided that Bryce Alford's desperation air-balled heave had "the possibility of going through the basket," the NCAA committee can say "See, UCLA deserved to be here." And we'll all believe that when we believe that ball had a shot to go through the basket. At least there is this: Has any team gotten more negative publicity for its selection to the tournament and then a buzzer-beating win? We can't remember any. And we have to admit any time we've seen Larry Brown in recent years, we wonder "What if?" What if USC had sent Kevin O'Neill on his way like they should have three years ago when Brown was available and had decided to bite the bullet and get one of the great basketball coaches in America and assign all the Compliance people necessary to stay on top of his staff and sit back and enjoy the ride as they have at SMU.
*** Ole Miss/Xavier: Good luck for all us Xavier alums that Ole Miss got the short straw among the 11 seeds and had to play in the play-in game Tuesday and barely made it to Jacksonville and clearly ran out of gas against my physical Musketeers who took full advantage of it. Always good to have your team in the tourney and you advance any way you can right now -- other than on a wrongheaded goaltending call that wasn't.
*** Ohio State/VCU: So could VCU's Shaka Smart have been on USC's short list of coaching prospects two years ago. Should he have been? He'd beaten the Trojans in their only NCAA start in the last half-dozen seasons and he's still in Richmond and doesn't have a program quite big enough to beat an Ohio State. At USC, he could have if only he would have. Guess he's waiting for that sure thing to come along. That wasn't USC, of course, even if everything else -- conference, chance to win, local recruiting area -- was in place.
*** Lafayette/Villanova: Another one of those "What if?" moments. Villanova's Jay Wright might have been right for recruiting out of Philly a couple of years back. It wouldn't have been easy. Actually, it would have been a heck of a longshot. And it would have been expensive but what does USC have to lose? You never know unless you give it shot. And this USC hoops program has to have someone give it a shot sometime.
*** Purdue/Cincinnati: My other almost alma mater coached by a family friend, even if Mick Cronin is back at the hotel for medical reasons, the Bearcats won the third straight one-pointer in Louisville without their coach and their leading scorer and make the point that you really have to forget about what you can't do -- like shoot the ball -- and just do what you can, like rebound and defend . . . and play really hard. I know I find myself saying it a hundred times on a day like this but "if only . . . what if?"
*** Harvard/North Carolina; And one more our many "What if?" thoughts today. What if, as rumored early, Harvard's Tommy Amaker was a potential USC coaching target? We know he said "no" early. He wasn't leaving Harvard, he said. But as we watch the Crimson almost take down the Tar Heels, we have to wonder if he could have been tempted with the right offer. Not saying he was the guy but in a long day of games watching teams overachieve, it's good to dream a bit and wonder "what about USC . . . What if?
*** SF Austin/Utah: Not looking at this as a chance to pull for a Pac-12 team but one with LA kids that have been coached up as they have by Larry K. in Salt Lake City and keep asking how that might happen in LA. That's all. Just glad we're not a Texas fan on this day as the overachieving SFA kids make it an 0-5 day for the Lone Star State that didn't even have one star Thursday.
*** LSU/North Carolina State: OK, it's getting challenging here. Covered NC State coach Mark Gottfried when he played at Alabama and he was a UCLA ssistant but that's about it. LSU is in its own world now. If only Dale Brown was still there. Nothing like having Dale call you up at home when he didn't like something you wrote. Dale would not have liked the way this one ended up for his Bayou Bengals.
*** Hampton/Kentucky: Everybody is connected to UK's perfect-so-far Wildcats, it seems. So those of us born in the Bluegrass State feel a bit crowded out here. Not as much a home state connection with this bunch other than its willingness to defend, play hard, check their egos (Coach Cal has enough for all of them) and do what they have to do. Our favorites were the little guys -- Rupp's Runts and Rick Pitino's "Unforgettables." Kentucky always seems more attractive to us looking back home when there's an underdog element there but the way recruiting is going right now, that doesn't seem to be happening any time soon.
*** Wofford/Arkansas: Pardon us if we were rooting hard for the little school from South Carolina that none of the Razorbacks could locate in Wednesday's presser. Connection for us: They're the Terriers. And we have a couple of terriers in our family that we're crazy about. Close enough. But the more we watch them, we wonder how USC could develop some of the spunk or skill sets of these Terriers.
*** Eastern Washington/Georgetown: Another stretch here. Every time we hit the road from Spokane to Pullman, we pass the turnoff to Cheney where Eastern Washington is located. Never have made that turn. But we like that their coach guaranteed a win here and we'll admit, going back to the first time we watched John Thompson's Hoyas in the NIT before they hit the big time, we had trouble liking them although realizing they'd be a force to be reckoned with. Which is pretty much the way it remains to this day in the final game of the day.
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