The USC Trojans took down the BYU Cougars in the first ever Hoophall LA tournament on Saturday, moving themselves to a perfect 8-0 on the season.
It has been a great start thus far for the Trojans, who ended last year with a disappointing Pac-12 Conference record of 9-9.
Despite recent injuries USC has proven itself to be a tough team that plays with heart and grit. While they haven’t necessarily played any high profile games, their growth is apparent as they have rediscovered the school’s longtime tradition of playing meaningful basketball.
USC was the top college basketball team in Los Angeles on Saturday, though not because they beat the Cougars- the true alpha dogs were away, giving the then number one ranked Wildcats a beating in front of a stunned Kentucky crowd and an equally exasperated John Calipari.
Freshman Lonzo Ball has delivered on every bit of his well-deserved hype, transforming the Bruins into the number two overall (and perhaps best) team in the country.
Ball has averaged 14.6 points, 5 rebounds and 9.3 assists in his freshman season at UCLA, boosting his draft stock as analysts and scouts swear by the Jason Kidd comparisons.
Along with fellow freshman TJ Leaf (17.2 points, 9.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists), the Bruins have completed an epic turn around that saw themselves go from Pac-12 bottom dwellers to one of two top teams in the nation in a matter of months.
With such hype surrounding this year’s UCLA squad, it’s easy for the Trojans to get lost in all the noise.
In reality, USC has not been as impressive as the Bruins, despite their nearly identical record. They haven’t played any top ranked teams, and have feasted on struggling programs like San Diego and New Orleans to begin the season.
The Trojans have several players that qualify as both an offensive and defensive threats, and head coach Andy Enfield has preached defense almost constantly. They play fast but not quick, often giving up sloppy turnovers as they race down the court to score.
UCLA plays with speed as well, though they are much more efficient at it, a testament to Ball’s abilities.
Before their matchup with Kentucky, head coach Steve Alford cited the speed at which both teams were expecting to play.
“They run the ball as well as anybody,” Alford said before the game. “And that’s our identity too.”
It’s ironic that just a few years ago, Enfield was quoted as saying “If you want to play slow, go to UCLA.”
Now the statement should read: if you want to play fast and efficient, go to UCLA.
The Trojans do have a chance to prove themselves as a legitimate threat to the Bruins as the top team in the city, as they have a very favorable upcoming schedule. Four of USC’s next five games are all against sub .500 teams. They don’t face a true powerhouse until Oregon on December 30, giving them a great opportunity to go 13-0 to start the season.
UCLA on the other hand will have all eyes on them in the next coming weeks, as they face several top squads after their dismantling of the Wildcats.
The Bruins will face Michigan (6-2), Ohio State (7-1), Oregon (7-2), Cal (6-1) and Colorado (6-2) in their next nine games. Either Lonzo ball and company will continue to impress, perhaps showing enough dominance to merit the number one ranking, or they will lose a few unexpected games, falling from the top spot they only recently surged to claim.
As the 2016-17 NCAA season continues, both USC and UCLA will be heavily monitored by fans and the media. If the city of Los Angeles is lucky enough, both teams will remain undefeated until their highly anticipated rivalry game on January 25.
Regardless of which team comes out on top at the end of the season, it’s good to see Southern California’s college basketball teams on top.