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THE MARCH TO MADNESS

Trojans Hope to Be Living At-Large

With a win over Washington, USC should be in--but nothing is definite.

March 08, 1997|GEORGE DOHRMANN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SEATTLE — This is how you pass the time on the road if you are USC's basketball team: huddled in a hotel outside Seattle, staring at the television, wondering what next will be said about your NCAA tournament chances.

"[My friends] tell me we are in, but then I turn on the TV and no one has us picked," senior Stais Boseman said. "And I believe TV before I believe them."

Television's prognosticators say USC would have to be the fifth team picked from the Pacific 10 Conference, no matter what happens in today's game here against Washington. And, most say, that is one team too many.

Forget that the Trojans can finish alone in second place, ahead of three probable tournament invitees--Arizona, California and Stanford--and forget that by Sunday, USC might have won its final four games and finished 18-9.

"I don't know how any of it works," senior Rodrick Rhodes said. "But if we win [today], I think we deserve it."

Who deserves what will be determined by the NCAA selection committee Sunday, and several factors are likely to be discussed in the case of the Trojans, who would need to be one of the 34 at-large selections.

Most prominent is the strength of the Pac-10, and whether the conference goes five deep. Because of a low RPI (47) and a 6-8 record against the top 100 on that list, USC cannot slip in ahead of Cal (21 RPI), No. 23 Stanford or No. 12 Arizona.

So, if the committee sees only UCLA, Arizona and a pack of mediocrity, then it is a safe bet that only four teams will be picked. Or, if it believes the Big Ten or Big East deserve five or six teams, USC could be headed for the National Invitation Tournament.

"I'd be disappointed if we didn't get five," Oregon Coach Jerry Green said. "We need to stop being defensive about measuring up. We've had four or five teams in the top 25 since January, and there is no reason not to have a repeat of that in the tournament."

The Trojans do have some things going for them. Even if they lost to Washington today, they would finish 12-6 in conference play and since the NCAA field was expanded to 64 teams, seven of nine Pac-10 teams with that record have made the tournament. Also, five of eight teams at 11-7 have been selected.

And, a victory against the Huskies puts USC at 18 victories, and since 1990, 27 of 28 Pac-10 teams with 18 victories and at least 10 conference victories got a bid.

"Based on their play in conference, they deserve to get a bid," Arizona Coach Lute Olson said. "But I don't know much about their nonconference schedule."

There is not much to know. Losses to Tennessee and Nevada Las Vegas smart at this time of year, and a 19-point loss to Cincinnati stings worse. The only positive is a victory over North Carolina Charlotte (21-7), a team also on the fringe.

"If we would have taken care of things at Tennessee and UNLV, we wouldn't be in this situation," Boseman said. "Everything would be lovely."

Instead, the Trojans find themselves competing against teams they hardly considered before now--Southwest Missouri State, West Virginia, Marquette, Michigan, Syracuse, Texas Tech.

All of them are on that cliche known as the bubble, and all are stuck watching television, wondering what will be said next.

"All we can do is come out and take care of business," senior center David Crouse said. "And then hope everything works out."

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