The Colorado Buffaloes are firmly ensconced in the NCAA Tournament field. The USC Trojans could take a big step in that direction with a win.
TV Schedule: Thursday, February 20, 2020 at 9:00 PM ET, ESPN2
Location: CU Events Center, Boulder, Colorado
There’s no shortage of interesting games on the Pac-12 slate this Thursday night. None is more intriguing – or important – than USC’s trip to Colorado.
The Buffaloes have distinguished themselves as one of the best teams in the conference and the nation. The No. 18 team in the country is 9-4 in Pac-12 play, tied with the Oregon Ducks for the best record in the league. Colorado recently lost to the Ducks on the road, but they defeated them in Boulder by nine points, so those teams are as even as they come right now.
Junior McKinley Wright IV hasn’t reached the same level of acclaim as recent years, but he’s still putting up strong all-around numbers, averaging 13.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game. Colorado’s offense runs through him, so USC needs to find a way to stop the ball from getting into his hands on every possession.
USC has quietly had a solid season that has landed them firmly on the NCAA Tournament bubble. In fact, the Trojans may be the Pac-12’s best shot at landing a fourth team in the field, behind Oregon, Colorado and Arizona.
The Trojans are 8-5 in conference play, fresh off a dominant victory over Washington State and a more contentious victory over Washington. Saturday’s win over the Cougars featured a particularly important development, a star turn for senior guard Daniel Utomi. He dropped 23 points against Washington State, just a few games after torching Arizona for 22 points. Utomi averages just 7.9 points per game, but on a team dominated by freshmen, his senior leadership on and off the court is essential moving forward.
Still, the Trojans need Onyeka Okongwu back in the lineup. The star freshman has missed several games in the concussion protocol and there has been no public determination regarding his status for Thursday. Without him, USC has an uphill climb to defeat Colorado, a climb that might be too tall even if the forward is in the lineup.
Colorado is tough to beat at home. They aren’t Rutgers-level good at home (what a sentence to write in 2020), but they’ve only lost twice at the CU Events Center this year, to Northern Iowa and Oregon State. They’ve now reeled off five straight wins at home.
USC is developing a reputation as a program that can’t beat ranked teams. The Trojans have lost their last eight games against opponents ranked in the AP Top 25, with their last win coming in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament against SMU back on March 17, 2017. They haven’t beaten a ranked team in a true road game since 2010.
Additionally, there teams have already met in Los Angeles this season. Home court advantage did little for USC, who lost 78-57. Nobody on the Trojans scored more than 12 points and only two starters reached a double-digit point total.
In Colorado, the story should be much the same, especially if Okongwu can’t suit up for the Trojans.
Prediction: Colorado 80, USC 64