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Providence, USC pick up where they left off

03.14.17 at 6:24 pm ET
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The Friars are ready to go in Dayton. (John Rooke photo)

The Friars are ready to go in Dayton. (John Rooke photo)

It isn’t a long and storied history between the two programs, but their most recent meeting on the hardwood has had lingering effects for both sides.

As Providence and USC prepare for their Wednesday night First Four meeting in Dayton, Ohio, March Madness fans might recall the two teams tipped-off the “madness” part of it all in last year’s tournament. As the 9-seed against USC’s 8th seeded Trojans, the Friars got a layup from Rodney Bullock with 1.5 seconds remaining off an inbounds pass from Drew Edwards, advancing PC to the 2nd round.

USC gave the Friars the opportunity to win, however, thanks to missing the front end of a 1-and-1 free throw on the other end of the floor. And while the key players on both teams have largely changed over the past year, for those that were in Raleigh, North Carolina last March they remember it well.

“We remember it,” said Jordan McLaughlin, an honorable mention all-Pac-12 guard this season for the Trojans, who scored 15 points with 5 assists and 4 steals in the one point loss. “It’s something that’s in the back of our minds.”

“Last year, that was a great experience,” was Rodney Bullock’s recollection, a 2nd team all-Big East forward this year who put up a 16-point, 10-rebound double-double against the Trojans and scored the decisive basket. “I felt like that helped us (this year), and just hopefully we need to make shots and just carry out our game plan, and I think we’ll be fine.”

USC’s team has had the greater turnover of the two teams from a year ago, with only three players returning this season who had a significant impact on that 70-69 final in Raleigh. But those three appear to be the Trojans’ main threat to gaining at least a measure of revenge against Providence this year. McLaughlin, 6-10 sophomore forward Bennie Boatwright, 6-5 junior Elijah Stewart and 6-11 sophomore center Chimezie Metu, who was a role player a year ago (and Pac-12 Most Improved this year) will have the Friars busy trying to defend them.

“This kid McLaughlin, I think, is their glue guy,” Ed Cooley explained. “He’s very talented. He’s the maestro for them, one of the best guards in the country. We’ve got our hands full with him.

“I think both teams are totally different,” Cooley added. “We have five of our nine-man rotation that are first-year guys. I know USC has a very young team, but they have a core group of guys that played in the game much like ours, but same systems, different personalities.”

One thing seems certain, however, as the Friars and Trojans meet on the basketball court for just the 3rd time in their storied pasts. Both teams, using last year as the stepping stone, believe this season’s appearance in the NCAA Tournament is validation for what they’re trying to build.

“We’re 328 out of 351 (teams) in experience in the country,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “We replaced our upperclassmen (on that team) with four freshmen and we had two transfers. This is the NCAA Tournament. And this is what you work hard for all season, we’re excited to be here.”

“There’s a different excitement in me,” Cooley explained. “This is the fourth excitement I’ve had. I’m happy. I can’t tell you how happy and how blessed I am to be sitting here in front of you. I’m still pinching myself. I can’t believe we’re here. Don’t forget, we were picked ninth in the Big East.”

Seems like the happy feeling on both sides could last a while longer – at least until the final buzzer Wednesday night, that is.

FIRST FOUR NOTES

Several former Friars were present in the University of Dayton Arena for Providence’s practice session Tuesday afternoon. Austin Croshere, all-Big East for PC in 1996-97 and still #14 on the school’s all-time scoring list, is working the First Four games for Westwood One Radio; Dan Gavitt, former assistant coach under Rick Barnes and a former athletic director at Bryant, is the NCAA’s Vice President for Basketball and in charge of overseeing the production that March Madness has become; Michael Swets, who was a graduate assistant during Keno Davis’ time as head coach, is now the Director of Basketball Operations for USC under Andy Enfield, after working for former PC assistant Pat Skerry at Towson.

Providence is 2-0 in their previous games against USC, also beating the Trojans 59-53 in 1972 in Los Angeles prior to last year’s contest. How rare is it for two teams to face each other two years in a row in the opening round of the NCAA’s? The last time it happened was 2008-09, when BYU and Texas A&M met in consecutive seasons and tournaments.

The Trojans finished their regular season 24-9 overall, 10-8 in the Pac-12 and finishing 6th in the conference. Their last game was a 76-74 loss to cross-town rival UCLA in the Pac-12 quarterfinals in Las Vegas. Best wins of the season were against SMU (waiting for the winner of this game on Friday) 78-73 in November, BYU in Las Vegas 91-84 in December, at Colorado, and against UCLA 84-76 on January 25th. USC was 10-6 in neutral/road games overall, and 4-6 against teams currently in the NCAA Tournament. Providence is 8-8 against teams in the current tournament field.

The trip to Dayton marks PC’s 19th trip to the NCAA’s, and their fourth straight appearance in the tournament – a school record. Providence managed three-straight trips to the tournament during the storied seasons under Joe Mullaney and Dave Gavitt in the 1960’s and ‘70’s, but never four. This year also marks the fifth straight post-season appearance under Cooley overall, including the NIT in 2013.

Providence is also one of 17 programs that has now reached four straight (or more) NCAA Tournaments – Villanova, Wisconsin, Virginia, Baylor, Duke, Gonzaga, Xavier, VCU, Arizona, Kansas, Michigan State, Iowa State, Oregon, Cincinnati, Dayton, Wichita State and Kentucky are the others.

USC began the season 14-0, with 13 straight wins against non-conference opponents. The winning streak is 4th longest in school history and was the best start to a season for the Trojans since 1971. Like Providence’s Kyron Cartwright (a Southern Cal native and Most Improved in the Big East), they also featured the Pac-12’s Most Improved Player in 6-11 sophomore center Chimezie Metu. Metu also was named to the Pac-12 2nd team – as Cartwright was in the Big East.

Mount St. Mary’s (champions of the NEC) plays New Orleans (champs of the Southland) in the first of the First Four games Tuesday night at 6:40 p.m. ET, followed by Wake Forest and Kansas State. It’s the 17th straight year Dayton has hosted these games, and even with the hometown Flyers on the road (in Indianapolis) for a Friday game against Wichita State, there were only about 1000 tickets left for sale Tuesday morning. UD Arena seats 13,435. Wednesday’s opener features Cal-Davis (winners of the Big West) against North Carolina Central (MEAC champs) at 6:40.

Broadcast time from the University of Dayton Arena Wednesday night will begin at approximately 8:55 p.m. ET, with the tip-off scheduled for 9:10 on 103.7 WEEI-FM and friars.com.

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