Hitting the Hardwood: The local basketball roundup

The college basketball season is nearing its highest point. With a little less than a month left in the regular season, teams from all over the country look for statement wins, padding stats, and polishing up their resumes for the NCAA Tournament selection committee.

Around Southern California, teams from countless conferences are jockeying for position to make noise to end the season on a high note and for great seeding for conference tournaments in March. Here’s a look around the region.

Pac 12 Conference 

USC (15-3 overall, 9-2 conference)

Through 18 games this season, the men of Troy have been firing on all cylinders. Head Coach Andy Enfield, now in his eighth season has brought the program to new heights since taking over in 2013.

The USC Trojans, behind the sensational play of freshman Evan Mobley (4) have taken charge in the Pac-12 Conference. Photo courtesy of Mark Hammond/Black News Service

Despite losing it’s depth of scoring and rebounding, the Trojans have firepower in returning guard Ethan Anderson, forwards Isaiah Mobley and Max Agbonkpolo, and coveted freshman Evan Mobley along with offseason graduate transfers.

Besides an otherwise late start to the 2020-21 season, USC began the year with a slate of non-conference games against the likes of Cal Baptist and UC Irvine, along with traveling to a bubble back east meeting up with national name brand UConn.

After starting the season 3-0 and dropping a tight contest to UConn, the Trojans wrapped up their non-conference slate and began Pac-12 play where they have been asserting their dominance over their league foes.

USC currently stands at the top of the conference standings after picking up wins against Stanford and crosstown rival UCLA over the weekend. Not only do these wins cement the Trojans’ place amongst the “conference of champions” with eight games left, but it also puts them in a strong position for a higher seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

UCLA guard Johnny Juzang (3) has been a driving force all season for the Bruins. The photo appears courtesy of Mark Hammond/BlackNews Service

UCLA (13-4 overall, 9-2 conference)

After winning 11 of their last 14 games to close out the 2020 season, the Bruins returned almost everyone from last season’s team including picking up local product and Kentucky transfer Johnny Juzang.

Through 16 games, second-year head coach Mick Cronin seems to have righted the ship in Westwood. Five players average double figures, while their bench picks up the scraps averaging almost ten points a game.

UCLA had a minor hiccup last weekend at USC, where the Trojans clearly outperformed their crosstown rivals from the start. Some bright spots included Juzang who registered his first career double-double and got help from freshman Mac Etienne who made his collegiate debut.

With seven games left, the Bruins look to hit their stride and finish strong as they near the conference tournament.

Big West Conference

Long Beach State (3-5 overall, 2-2 conference)

Through eight games, four of them in-conference the men’s team at ‘The Beach’ has been mediocre at best. They’ve been outscored by their opponents by almost 100 points (98 as of today). As a team, they average 74.8 ppg.  Led by junior Michael Carter III,  LBSU has hung around with teams around the league, but haven’t yet found their stride in navigating how unusual this season is. After having persistent COVID-19 issues among the program, they hope to return to the floor this weekend at UC Davis.

Cal State Fullerton (5-6 overall, 4-6 conference)

Through eleven games this season, Cal State Fullerton played one game in the month of December and jumped right into the heart of conference play at the dawn of the new year. After going through a three-game slide and a brief COVID-19 pause, the Titans look to tighten things up and finish on a high note.

Fullerton is being led by Tray Maddox Jr. who’s averaging 15 points per game, netting 50 percent of his field goals. Just behind him are Wayne Arnold and Dante Maddox who both average 11 points a game, netting close to 50 percent of their shots.

The Titans are back on the floor this weekend as they head to San Luis Obispo to take on Cal Poly.

Other notable Big West teams: UC Irvine (10-6 overall, 6-1 conference).

Defense is the name of the game. Photo appears courtesy of Mark Hammond/Black Service News

West Coast Conference

Loyola Marymount University (8-6 overall, 5-3 conference)

The Lions have a new man in charge in first-year head coach Stan Johnson who previously led the Marquette Golden Eagles. LMU has shown spurts of growth, but that has not translated into wins.

Last season, the Lions finished 11-21 with a 4-12 conference mark. With Johnson now at the helm, he looks to build a roster with returners such as big man Eli Scott who leads the team in scoring (16 ppg). The West Coast Conference typically runs through Spokane and Gonzaga, but the Lions look to make strides and build for a future in the next six games. After a COVID-19 pause within the program, LMU looks to return to the floor this weekend as they welcome the Pacific Tigers to Gersten Pavilion on Saturday.

Other notable WCC teams: Pepperdine (8-8 overall, 4-3 conference).

Editor’s note: Featured image of USC guard Ethan Anderson (20) bringing the basketball ball up the court against the defense of UCLA’s Johnny Juzang (3) during a Pac-12 Conference matchup played at Galen Center on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2021. Photo credit: Mark Hammond/Black News Service

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