How thoughtful of the NCAA to begin its basketball tournament the week USC is taking off from spring football. Thanks all. USC fans can enjoy Thursday’s first-round matchup between the No. 8 seed Trojans and the No. 9 seed Friars in the East Region at Raleigh and not miss a practice.
So let’s look ahead to the NCAA’s and back at Week 1 of Clay Helton’s first spring together here.
*** Although if for some reason the Trojans should still be playing next week in the Sweet 16, having negotiated both Providence and No. 1 seed North Carolina, we’re guessing USC fans would find a way to accommodate the double-dipping for their attention . . .Just Sayin’
*** But if anyone tells you they know how Thursday’s game (6:45 p.m., TBS) is going to go, tell them to take a hike. It’s the closest matchup in the entire first round the NCAA could come up with – the No. 31 overall seed Trojans against the No. 33 Friars . . . . Just Sayin'.
*** Having watched both teams as much as I have (Providence because it seemed like the Friars were playing my alma mater Xavier every other week in the Big East), they both have a tendency to take off – in games, for much of the month of February, or their conference tournament after the first game) but both have flashed moments of brilliance. Thursday should be interesting . . . Just Sayin'.
*** Providence will probably have the best two players in the game, but at seven or eight deep, USC will have more good players on the floor. If USC can somewhat neutralize talented point guard Kris Dunn and 6-9 Ben Bentil, Trojans should have a real shot to advance. But that means USC must defend and rebound, something the Trojans do not always show up to do . . . Just Sayin'.
*** Here’s why you don’t trust the pundits and their previews. They don’t know what they’re talking about. This from the Yardbarker site: “It's all about Friars guard and likely top-10 pick Dunn in this one. In a vacuum, he has a major advantage over an inferior Trojan backcourt. Though, Southern California does have the assets up front to take on Providence leading scorer Bentil.” Clueless doesn’t do this stuff justice. It’s exactly bass-ackwards with the USC backcourt its strength in Julian Jacobs and Jordan McLaughlin . . . Just Sayin'.
*** And while the Pac-12 doesn’t often get its due Back East, and you can tell the Providence fans aren’t sure what to think of the league, we’re thinking that today’s top three college basketball headlines – 1) Cal fires assistant coach for sexual harassment; 2) Stanford fires Johnny Dawkins and 3) Banner at UCLA calls for Alford’s firing -- solely focused on the Pac-12 at least would make one take notice, even in a negative way. Sometimes they do pay attention . . . Just Sayin'.
*** As one of the final four national TV games Thursday, USC will have plenty of competition for viewers with the Arizona game against a play-in winner going at 6:15 on TNT, Kentucky vs. Stony Brook at 6:30 on CBS, then USC-Providence at 6:45 on TBS and Seton-Hall-Gonzaga at 6:55 . . . Just Sayin’.
*** Note how that three of the four late games have Pacific Time Zone teams in them but no game is anywhere close as late as the 8 p.m. tipoffs (11 p.m. EST) that USC and other West Coast teams have had to deal with too often this season for TV scheduling . . . Just Sayin’.
*** But we’d be remiss not to take a quick look back at the first week of spring ball here. And for the first time that we can recall, the coaching staff is coming off as the star attraction, not the players. We’re thinking that’s a clear reaction to five years of Sark and Lane when you had to couch all predictions or observations with an “if” about the head coach . . . Just Sayin’.
*** What’s interesting here is the attention is almost all on the assistants, which if we asked Clay, is probably just the way he wants it . . . Just Sayin’.
*** Not a surprise, or it shouldn’t be, that two of the standout spring guys on defense, safety Leon McQuay and linebacker Quinton Powell, both seniors, are among the handful of freshmen who showed up strong for Clancy Pendergast in 2013 and he hasn’t forgotten them. Big pluses to have those two back on board and in the mix and even leading the way . . . Just Sayin’.
*** Three trends so far this spring with two of them really positive and one both positive and negative. The first: no busted coverages. The second: no fumbles in the run game. And third, much more emphasis in taking the ball away in the passing game with the likes of McQuay and Isaiah Langley leading an aggressive secondary under Clancy and Ronnie Bradford, one that’s been entrusted to go for the ball even with starters Adoree’ Jackson and Chris Hawkins not here. The negative, of course, is the offense letting them do that . . . Just Sayin’.
*** Haven’t been able to see the work of the line coaches up close yet but we can’t say enough good things about the approach of veteran Neil Callaway on offense and rookie Kenechi Udeze on defense: How it’s all about technique, having the discipline to do it right every time, getting all the details down, making progress every day and in that way, developing the mental and physical confidence to be able to make the plays you have to make when the game is on the line. Seems simple. It’s not. Just look at the last few years and you understand that . . . Just Sayin’.
*** Biggest challenge for the offensive brain trust under Tee Martin is how to balance getting the ball to the stable of explosive playmakers in space and how and when to blend in the run game and make them mesh. That effective balance will be interesting to watch as it develops, which it must . . . Just Sayin’.
*** If you’re looking for one really improved player, here’s someone probably not on your list: Juju Smith-Schuster. He just looks quicker, faster, leaner and more mature. Sure, he was pretty good as a sophomore. He just looks improved in every way with what we saw last week . . . Just Sayin’.
*** Ronald Jones doesn’t look any bigger despite gaining 10 pounds to 195 this spring. We think it's his improved speed and quickness that makes you not notice the weight gain . . . Just Sayin’.
*** Two running backs who have caught our eye are the next two after Ronald and Justin Davis, who we just expect to be there. We think Tommie Robinson, who figured out how to work with five backs when he was here in 2013, has some plans for the multiple talents of Dominic Davis and the tough inside running of Aca’Cedric Ware . . . Just Sayin’.
*** One thing we’ll be interested in is how well this team comes back next Tuesday after 10 days off for Spring Break. If they resume without a hitch, that will say lots of good things about where this teams’ head is – and how effective its coaches are . . . Just Sayin’.
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