You don't always get a do-over in sports, as much as you'd like one. But this USC basketball team is getting two, actually.
If you count the chance to make an unsatisfying finish to the 2017 regular season go away with a strong postseason that comes with an NCAA Tournament invitation, there's also the chance to wipe away a bit the end of the 2016 season. That's when an unguarded in-bounds play allowed a Providence team that did not seem to be in USC's class to hit a wide-open layup with three seconds left to send the Trojans home from last year's NCAA first round 70-69 losers.
So make it a two-for-one deal for this 24-9 USC team although having to head to Dayton for a play-in game Wednesday (6:10 p.m., truTV) makes for a quick turnaround after Sunday's selection show. And yes, it is something of a put-down. Although getting a chance to get your tournament legs early -- and a win -- is nothing to look down on.
Win that game and the Trojans will be the target themselves in another revenge game as the No. 6-seed 30-4 Mustangs of SMU, playing as well as almost anybody in the nation after Sunday's 71-56 win over Cincinnati for the American Athletic Conference title, can use the same revenge psychology on the Trojans. The teams would play in a Friday game set for Tulsa's BOK Center with the time and TV to be determined.
In what was a 13-0 nonconference season start, USC's highlight win unquestionably was its 78-73 win over SMU at Galen. Without that, the other highlight -- beating UCLA at Galen -- probably would not have been enough to get USC into the field of 68.
Even the SMU win was barely enough since the Trojans, at No. 45 overall, were the second-lowest ranked of the at-large teams in the field, ahead of only Kansas State.
So was USC "on the bubble"?
Indeed it was. But the Trojans got through the day without getting their bubble burst, at least, as did the likes of Syracuse and Cal. We're thinking it would have been tough for the Selection Committee to award just three spots to a Pac-12 with three Top 10 teams so USC was something of a throw-in here. Might also mean that the NCAA likes Jim Boeheim even less than it does USC.
But at No. 45, USC can't feel all that good about itself below the likes of Vanderbilt (with 15 losses, the most ever for an at-large selection), Michigan State (with 14) and this 20-12 Providence team from the Big East it will face again in what will be USC's 18th trip all-time to the NCAA.
At least this time, Providence isn't led by an on-to-the-NBA star like Big East Player of the Year Kris Dunn. And the hope for the Trojans is that Chimezie Metu will not be shut out like he was last year after picking up four fouls in a mere 10-minute appearance.
“I think we're a pretty good team," USC coach Andy Enfield said after Thursday's two-point Pac-12 Tournament loss to a No. 3 NCAA seed UCLA for the second straight time. "We've got 24 wins. You don't get 24 wins if you're not a good team.”
"Pretty good" would be a USC team with 25 wins -- looking back at the horrendous late collapse at Arizona State that almost cost it an invitation -- or a USC team that picks up a win over Providence and gets past that 2016 NCAA loss.
Although to be honest, with USC's talent, it might take another win over SMU to get to 26 and a win away from a spot in the East Regional in New York and a Sweet 16 berth to qualify for "pretty good."
ESPN is clearly not impressed leading off its "All you need to know about the NCAA field 68 to 1" with USC at No. 48 and the bottom team in its "High-Major Meh -- Mostly power-conference teams that (probably) won't leave a lasting impression on the field. Here's the take on the Trojans.
With all due respect to Andy Enfield's improving program, which is now in its second-straight NCAA tournament, the Trojans barely outscored Pac-12 opposition per possession this season, are liked much less by advanced metrics than the silly old RPI, and have that unmistakable whiff of one-and-out about them.
So there you go for that "pretty good" tag. Providence, at No. 40, fares just a bit better:
Sounds pretty much like you-know-who, only without the bad start and strong finish.