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USC BASKETBALL

USC and Tim Floyd are seeking a whole new level

Trojans aspire to put their program on same plane as, say, Michigan State, which happens to be their next opponent. A win Sunday will aid that quest, and make Floyd USC's winningest NCAA tournament coach.

March 22, 2009|Chris Foster

MINNEAPOLIS — Another victory and Tim Floyd will have more NCAA tournament wins than any other USC coach. But before anyone starts chiseling a statue, the next win would give him . . . four.

To put it in perspective:

USC won 12 NCAA games before Floyd. Across town, UCLA had won 11 national championships.

"You've got to do it over a period of time," Floyd said. "We're still young at it."

When USC plays Michigan State today in a Midwest Regional second-round game, the Trojans will be facing a program that has been to the tournament 12 consecutive seasons, going to four Final Fours and winning one national title in that span.

"They are an elite program, and have been an elite program for a long time," USC junior guard Daniel Hackett said. "The idea when I came here was to make USC an elite program. The past three years, I can say with a pure heart, we've worked toward that goal. Once we are gone, I hope people recognize the dedication that went into starting something that hopefully will last a long time."

Any legacy could get a big boost today. Michigan State (27-6) is the second-seeded team in the regional, with a roster so deep the Trojans may feel as if they are facing a basketball version of the USC football team. There are no backup players, merely replacement parts.

The Spartans have developed that depth out of necessity, in part because of injuries and illness. They can match up to the Trojans (22-12), possibly even overmatch them, with a frontline whose starters are all 6 feet 8 or taller. Michigan State led the nation in rebound margin this season.

Center Goran Suton vs. USC's Taj Gibson . . . forward Raymar Morgan vs. DeMar DeRozan . . . guard Travis Walton vs. Hackett -- all are mano-a-mano scenarios for today's game.

"Good players," Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo said about the keys to moving on in the tournament. "Good players really help."

Izzo has collected plenty of those at Michigan State.

"He made it fashionable to go to Michigan State when it wasn't cool," Floyd said. "They were the 'other' school in the state. . . . Michigan State has had it its own way the last 11 years."

Floyd came to the "other school" in Los Angeles, taking over a program where the high points all happened when the Final Four was known as the national semifinals and a TV timeout was when the antenna went down.

USC got to the semifinals in 1940 and 1954. But Henry Bibby, Forrest Twogood and Floyd are the only Trojans coaches who have won more than one NCAA tournament game.

A victory today would put USC in the Sweet 16 for the second time in three seasons.

Floyd credited the USC administration for getting the Galen Center built and for placing an emphasis on basketball. "We never have to go in apologizing anymore when we go recruiting," he said.

But the chore remains.

"In today's times, it gets difficult because of today's early departures," Floyd said. "[USC assistant coaches] Gib Arnold and Bob Cantu have done a terrific job of bringing in reinforcements that can play on this stage. That's hard to do when you're not Duke and North Carolina and Kentucky."

Or Michigan State.

In the last 10 seasons, the Spartans have played in more Final Fours than any other team. This season, they won the Big Ten Conference regular-season title despite using 14 different starting lineups.

"It's an honor on coach's behalf, saying that if you came to Michigan State for four years you can kind of guarantee your right to go into a Final Four," Walton said.

That's a right of passage the Trojans are still seeking.

Said Gibson: "We started something, a new brand. USC teams have been good here and there. We've changed that and are doing that every year."

--

chris.foster@latimes.com

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