The Southern California Trojans (24-11) host the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (25-10) in a second-round NIT affair. The contest is scheduled to tipoff at 11:30 p.m. ET on Galen Center court in Los Angeles, California and will be broadcast live on ESPN2. Monday Night NIT Second Round Free Pick: USC vs. WKU.
While USC (-4, 151) earned a victory in the first round of the historic National Invitational Tournament they did little to impress. After what college basketball pundits called an NCAA Tournament snub evidence of the conferences mediocrity became evident in first round of the “Dance”.
The Trojans 103-98 double overtime victory over UNC Ashville in their opening NIT event was a schoolyard exhibition. UNC Ashville shot 47 percent from the field and from beyond the arc. The short-benched Bulldogs troupe hit 14 of their 18 free throws. In addition allowed USC eleven offensive rebounds in the loss. USC shot over 51 percent as a team and connected on 41 percent of their three-point attempts. They played little to no defense and turned the ball over 16 times.
The No. 1-seeded Trojans played without Chimezie Metu who made a personal decision not to participate in the NIT after the school didn’t receive an at-large berth to the Big Dance. Metu made the decision as a precautionary measure to eliminate the risk of injury leading up to the NBA Draft, Trojans coach Andy Enfield said in a prepared statement. Metu led the team in scoring (15.7 points per game), rebounding (7.4) and blocks (59) this season.
The Trojans received the No #1 seed before the news of Metu. And at one point before the first-round contest against Ashville it appeared that senior guard Elijah Stewart considered joining Metu on the sidelines. This until he found out senior point guard Jordan McLaughlin would play, according to Los Angeles media. “I really didn’t want to play in it,” Stewart, who ended up scoring 22 points and grabbing six rebounds in 42 minutes, told the LA Times. “I thought I’d just get a last few games in with (McLaughlin), go out on a good note.”
Western Kentucky lost a heartbreaker to Round-of-64 winner Marshall. The Thundering Herd outlasted WVU by a 67-66 margin in the Conference USA Tournament title game. The Hilltoppers, however, are in this tournament to win it. WVU opened with a victory against visiting Boston College 79-62 in the first round.
All-Conference USA senior forward Justin Johnson registered yet another double-double with 19 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Hilltoppers in the win over Boston College. In addition WVU faithful can depend on the best of freshman guard Taveion Hollingsworth who ranks third on the team in scoring (13.3). The frosh added 18 points, five rebounds and four assists in the win. The Hilltoppers dominated the Eagles shooting 55 percent in the win and finished with a 40-26 edge in points in the paint.
Without Metu and injured 6-10 Bennie Boatwright (knee) the Hilltoppers will have little resistance in their half court offensive sets. The fact that neither Stewart or McLaughlin are interested in doing little more than shooting and showboating is an advantage for the serious ‘Toppers, as well. The Trojans have had player personnel issues the entire season. Backup big, 6-11 Nick Rakocevic, was the Trojans most impressive in their win over UNC registering career highs in points (24) and rebounds (19).
USC survived UNC-Asheville by making more shots not because they were interested in competing and are a questionable No #1 seed in the traditional postseason soiree.
And less than a week after Selection Sunday the committee was accurate in not inviting the second place team from the Pac-12 to the “Dance”. This week provided all the evidence necessary to quantify the quality of the conference. Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA failed to advance beyond the Round-of-64 giving the league an 0-3 record in the 2018 tournament.
While the Big Ten, save Michigan and Purdue, was a disappointment the Pac-12 performance was embarrassing.
The Trojans will suffer the same fate No #5 seed Arizona endured on Saturday when the Wildcats lost by 20-plus points to the No #13 seeded Buffalo Bulls.
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Monday Night NIT Second Round Free Pick: USC vs. WKU