Scouting USC's opponent in the first round of the NCAA Tournament
The Trojans earned a 7-seed in the Midwest Region of the tournament field after the winningest regular season in program history. Their reward: a matchup with 10-seed Miami, a team with as hot an offense as there is.
This is USC’s second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance and the Trojans’ 19th overall. Head coach Andy Enfield, who signed a contract extension through the 2027-28 season a little over a week ago, has led USC to four tournament appearances, the most of any coach in school history.
Eleven players from last year’s Elite Eight run—including Isaiah Mobley, Drew Peterson, Chevez Goodwin, Max Agbonkpolo, Ethan Anderson, and Reese Dixon-Waters—returned this season to help USC set the program record for wins in a regular season (25). The Trojans (26-7 overall) reached the semifinals of the Pac-12 Tournament.
Now, they’ll look for similar success in the NCAAs. Up first are the Hurricanes. Tip-off is set for shortly after noon PT Friday on truTV. Here’s what to expect:
The Skinny on Miami:
Record: 23-10 (14-6 ACC)
Here’s what Spenser Davis from our ACC site had to say on the Hurricanes’ season:
Jim Larrañaga won an ACC Tournament in 2013 and an ACC regular-season title the following season, but this may have been his best coaching job. The Hurricanes used a legion of veteran guards to overcome the lack of any genuine frontcourt presence on their way to a 4th-place ACC finish, wins over Duke and North Carolina, and the program’s first NCAA bid since the 2017-2018 season. As noted, Miami has more guards than Everglades Correctional, and the best of them are (Kam) McGusty and the diminutive super senior Charlie Moore, whose prior stops included Kansas.
Moore is one of the best steal artists in the sport, ranking 91st in the country in steal percentage and giving the Canes their lone difference-maker defensively. The Hurricanes were achingly close to a much better seed but dropped six games by five points or less to ACC opponents. They simply don’t get blown out and Friday’s game will be a tight one.
KenPom ranking: 57th
The ‘Canes make no secret about it—this is an offensive-minded team. They rank 152nd in adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom, but make up for it with the 17th-best offense. Miami ranked first or second among ACC teams in effective field goal percentage (55.7%), turnover rate (13.9%), and 2-point shooting (55.5%) in conference play.
The last two are of particular interest for USC, which will have a significant size advantage over the Hurricanes.
Miami’s penchant for hanging onto the basketball rivals UCLA’s, and the Bruin win over USC in which they only turned it over once still sticks out. The Trojans just don’t generate a ton of takeaways (nearly four percentage points below the national average, per KenPom) and it forces them to rely on halfcourt execution.
USC is, however, a strong offensive rebounding team (34% rate, 22nd nationally) and Miami has gotten beat often on the boards this season (allowed 31% offensive rebounding rate, 268th). If USC can’t generate extra possessions through turnovers, it might have to do so by crashing the glass.
What happens when Miami has the ball in the halfcourt will be interesting. The Trojans allow 41.6% shooting on 2s this season, which is the second-best mark in all of college basketball. Miami is a strong 3-point shooting team, but an even stronger 2-point shooting team.
McGusty should have the ball in his hands a ton (and the starters are going to play the vast majority of minutes), so if he starts knocking in 3s and gets the Trojan defense to stretch out, that size advantage for the Trojans might not feel the same. McGusty, at 17.6 points a game this season, has shot at or above 50% in five of his last six games.
The 6-foot-10 Sam Waardenburg blocks 1.2 shots a game and shoots 43% on triples. He takes nearly four per 40 minutes on the floor.
KenPom says: USC wins 73-72, 53% chance to win
In Max Agbonkpolo (who played well lately defensively), Drew Peterson, and Isaiah Mobley, USC has versatile defenders with serious length to throw at Miami. All three stand at least 6-foot-9. But perhaps the most important player will be the 6-foot-10 big man Chevez Goodwin. Can he stay on the floor? He was limited to 19 minutes against UCLA.
His frontcourt partnership with Mobley could cause serious problems for Miami on the interior if both guys are engaged and able to get cooking. Mobley is one of the most skilled big men in college basketball, with the ability to run a 4-5 pick-and-roll on his own and make the right play. We’ve seen him and Goodwin operate in a two-man game from the short corner before. How does Miami defend that? Will it look to just switch every ball screen and try to use intensity to fluster USC or trap the ball-handler in the pick-and-roll?
USC will need Mobley and Peterson to knock down some shots, though. It was the Boogie Ellis show at the Pac-12 Tournament and that wasn’t enough to get by the Bruins. Mobley shot 8-for-20 in Vegas. Peterson only took 13 total shots in two games.