Gold: With 4th straight 20-win season, Andy Enfield has USC humming -- and deserving of an NCAA Tournament bid
When Andy Enfield was hired as USC men’s basketball head coach in 2013, it was one of the most curious moves in then-recent memory.
He had just led Florida Gulf Coast to the Sweet 16 and … that was it. He’d coached the Eagles for just 2 seasons after a 5-year run as Florida State assistant coach. He was certainly one of the more innovative and intriguing coaches in the game, but the hire came out of nowhere.
It’s fair to say Enfield’s basketball bona fides were eclipsed by his business accomplishments. Following a star career as the best player in the history of D-III John’s Hopkins — he still holds 18 school records, including career points (2,025), single-season points (610), career scoring average (18.8), career field goals (680), career 3-pointers (234), career three-point percentage (.470), career free throws (431), single-season free-throw percentage (95.3) and career minutes (3,542) — and after receiving the coveted NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship, Enfield became a shooting coach and consultant, dubbing himself the “Shot Doctor.” But in 2000, Enfield became a primary investor and vice president of healthcare software start up, TractManager. The company blew up, and Enfield became wealthy.
He desperately missed basketball and competing, though, and returned to the game as a coach.
Now he’s burnished his resume as a basketball coach, and it’s fair to call him one of the top coaches in the Pac-12, if not the West coast.
Thursday’s 84-65 win over Colorado gave USC 20 wins for a program-record 4th straight year. Almost overnight, the Trojans have turned from one of the most imbalanced “football schools” in the nation into a case study in consistency.
For the first time in program history, we’ve now posted four straight 20-win seasons!
Say it with us: Thanks, Enfield! pic.twitter.com/OeRu1BVHw8
— USC Men's Basketball (@USC_Hoops) February 24, 2023
Now the NCAA Selection committee must reward that consistency with an NCAA bid, no matter what happens in the Pac-12 Tournament.
For a while, it was fair to wonder what Enfield was doing. The Trojans won just 11 and 12 games in his first 2 seasons, including 2 and 3 conference games, respectively.
In Year 3, though USC started to show some promise. The Trojans went 21-13 in 2015-16 led by a roster of no-names. Jordan McLaughlin? Chimezie Metu? Not exactly Stockton/Malone. The 21 wins were the team’s most since Tim Floyd led the Trojans to a 22-13 record in 2008-09. Included in the wins were victories over then-No. 7 Arizona and 3 wins over UCLA.
The next season, led by McLaughlin, Metu, Bennie Boatwright and De’Anthony Melton, USC won a program-record 26 games. The year after, the Trojans went 24-12 overall and finished 2nd at 12-6 in Pac-12 play but were not rewarded with an NCAA Tournament bid.
And then USC failed to capitalize momentum.
The losses of McLaughlin and Metu, not to mention reliable guard Elijah Stewart, sent USC back to the drawing board. Even the arrival of 5-star recruit Kevin Porter Jr. and a terrific senior year by Boatright was not enough for the Trojans to continue their run.
Little did that matter; USC was able to retool in a hurry, bringing in star recruits Onyeka Okongwu and Isaiah Mobley. A year later, when Mobley’s brother Evan joined the fold, it was clear USC had announced itself on the national stage.
Four years later, the Trojans are still there.
After notching his 200th win with USC earlier this year, Enfield reflected.
“To have 200 wins at one school, we’re very proud of that stability,” said Enfield, who already ranks 4th all-time in USC coaching wins and needs just 58 more to supplant Sam Berry at the top. “But this is something I share with our players and our staff. When I think of that, I think of all the great people we’ve had here at USC. I hope there’s many more, but certainly proud of what we’ve done.”
“That’s a milestone that I didn’t even know until I was reminded yesterday about it,” he said. “Personal milestones are nice, but we’re in this for the program. That just means we’ve had stability over the last 10 years with our coaching staff. I’m very proud of our assistant coaches and everybody that’s worked so hard to give us a chance to win on a daily and weekly basis.
“And our players. I’ve had a lot of good players here as a head coach. We’ve recruited players that developed and they’ve been very successful moving on either to the NBA or on in life.”
But will the success of the recent past be enough for them to punch a ticket to March Madness?
USC’s 84-65 win over Colorado on Thursday night was a microcosm of the Trojans’ season.
Guard Boogie Ellis led the way with 21 points, do-everything guard Drew Peterson had 11 points, 6 assists and 6 rebounds, and 3 other Trojans scored in double-figures, including 15 bench points from Reese Dixon-Waters. A 15-4 first-half run was enough to give USC momentum that it did not relinquish.
“Huge dub,” said Kobe Johnson, who scored 15 points for the Trojans, while walking off the floor. “It’s very tough to win in a place like Boulder. To be able to win like this feels amazing. We ain’t done yet.”
They may not be done, but will the NCAA selection committee allow them to go far?
At 20-8 and 3rd in a weak Pac-12, the Trojans are firmly on the NCAA Tournament bubble, which is absurd. Their NET is No. 49. A nonconference win over Auburn ranks as a quality win, as does a 77-64 win over UCLA. A near-comeback win over the Bruins also may play in their favor.
So, too, should their recent history.
Two years removed from just their second Elite 8 in program history, USC has proved it belongs with the top programs in the west and that it deserves the benefit of the doubt this season.