Courtside: Andy Enfield could have a lot riding on USC’s Saturday game

first_imgIf you’re looking for intrigue surrounding USC’s Saturday showdown with UCLA, you don’t have to look very hard. The Trojans have a first-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament to play for, a March Madness berth to earn and a crosstown rival to gain bragging rights over for the second time this season. A win in this game alone shouldn’t cool Enfield’s seat entirely, but it would go a long way toward putting USC in March Madness, which should. Plus, not to mention, it would likely spoil UCLA’s comeback season and hamper its chances at a March Madness berth, and it’s no secret that the athletic department loves seeing the Bruins fail. If the Trojans were to fall to UCLA, they’d have to dig themselves out of a hole larger than one win against one of said bottom feeders. They’d have to take care of business in the first round, then go and handle a tough opponent such as Colorado or Arizona State in the quarterfinal, and at that point, they would need a win to avoid dropping two out of their last three games against good but far from unbeatable opponents — not a great look for a bubble team ahead of the tourney.  Yes, Enfield has brought in several solid recruiting classes since taking over, notably No. 7 in 2019, No. 18 in 2018 and No. 19 in 2014. No, it’s not quite Duke, which has had four top classes and six top-three in that span, but it’s solid nonetheless. The parallels, while parallel, aren’t exact. Helton’s seat was hotter entering the season, his team wasn’t as good, the cold stretch was longer, the letdowns were more letdown-y.  Let’s start with the tangible ramifications of the matchup, because there are plenty, and they all tie back into Enfield. After USC’s huge wins against Arizona and Arizona State, I’ve heard a lot of people claim the Trojans now need to win just one more game to get into the Big Dance, whether that win comes Saturday at Galen or next week in Vegas. That seems awfully overgenerous and oversimplified. Yes, UCLA has been playing great basketball recently, and a win would certainly stand out on the Trojans’ resume. But if USC were to knock off UCLA at home but then lose to some subpar team like Washington or Oregon State in the first round of the Pac-12 tourney, is that really enough? Can the selection committee accept a team which has not only failed to pick up a truly impressive win away from home all year, but has also shown an inability to take care of a conference bottom feeder when the stakes are high? Look, I really don’t like framing other USC sports teams in the context of the football program, but this one just feels too obvious. The Trojans started off the season hot and looked promising, then hit a cold stretch in the middle of the season. Eventually, they got out of it, but not before fans started calling for the job (or head, in football’s case) of the head coach. Then they picked it up at the end of the season and set themselves up for a huge showdown against their most hated rival.  But one thing about this game that shouldn’t fly under the radar of USC fans (but probably will fly under the radar of those in control at Heritage Hall) is how Saturday could change the fate of head coach Andy Enfield. And what do the Trojans have to show for it? Two March Madness appearances? Two combined wins in those tournaments — one of them coming in the First Four? What good is strong recruiting when it doesn’t turn into wins?  But if USC can take care of UCLA and earn a spot in the second round in Vegas — whether that’s via a bye or a first-round win — the Trojans will be sitting in the driver’s seat for cracking March Madness. It will also put Enfield in the driver’s seat for keeping his job. And while the topic hasn’t been publicized much, if athletic director Mike Bohn and other department officials haven’t started having conversations about Enfield’s future with the program, well, they should.  I understand this team is young and inexperienced. But in today’s college basketball landscape, that’s what coaches have to deal with. What plagues this team at times is indiscipline, and that has to be an indictment on the coaching staff.  But Bohn’s apparent approach to the situation was telling. Like he said in his introductory press conference at John McKay Center Nov. 7, good programs finish strong.  But that’s the problem: They haven’t made the tournament since 2017. And if this year’s group can’t do it, there has to be a long look into whether the program is under the right leadership.  And that starts tomorrow. Nathan Ackerman is a sophomore writing about sports. He is also an associate managing editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “Courtside,” runs every Friday. Enfield and the Trojans have established themselves as a good program. But they have to finish strong.  One coach came out on top in that regular season finale, and I hold that had he not, he’d have been long gone. The other, we’ll see.  On the surface, this looks like an unquestionably successful season for a team that isn’t known as a traditional NCAA basketball powerhouse. The Trojans are 21-9 and have played themselves into the conversation for the NCAA Tournament, which they haven’t made since 2017.last_img read more