Culver City Observer -

By Bill Seals
Sports Reporter 

Bruins and Trojans return to the Men's NCAA Basketball Tournament

 

March 17, 2022

George Laase

USC's Max Agbonkpolo will try to help the Trojans advance in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.

In 2021, the UCLA Bruins men's basketball team made it to the Final Four of the NCAA basketball tournament, their best finish since the 2008 season. In 2021, the USC Trojans men's basketball team had their best finish since the 2001 season, landing in the Elite Eight of the NCAA basketball tournament.

Both the Bruins and the Trojans are once again returning to the NCAA basketball tournament in 2022. The Bruins finished the season with a 25-7 record, and they were the runner-up to the Pac-12 conference champion Arizona Wildcats in both the regular season and in the recent post-season conference tournament in Las Vegas. The Bruins were ranked 11th in the nation in the final Associated Press Poll.

The Trojans ended up in third place in the Pac-12 regular season standings with an overall record of 26-7 for the 2021-2022 regular season. The Trojans were eliminated in the semi-finals of the Pac-12 post season tournament, falling to the Bruins for the second time this season, 69-59.

The Bruins were assigned to the East Regional of the NCAA tournament as the No. 4 seed and they opened play in Portland against the No. 13 seeded Akron Zips of the Mid-American Conference last Thursday. The Bruins are ranked at 10th in Net Ranking among the 358 NCAA Division 1 schools. The Zips are ranked 127th in the Net Rankings.

The Zips have an overall record of 24-9 and finished in third place in the Mid-American Conference during the regular season but won the post-season tournament and the automatic bid that goes with winning the post-season tournament. The Zips are led by sophomore forward Ali Ali, who averaged 14.1 points per game and sophomore forward Enrique Freeman, who averaged 13 points per game. Both were selected to the MAC All-Conference second team.

The Bruins were favored by 13.5 points against the Zips. The Zips are making their fifth appearance ever in the NCAA basketball tournament. They have never won a game in the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament. The Bruins have won 11 national championships and have been to the Final Four 19 times. The Bruins should prevail in this matchup. If the Bruins win this first round matchup, they will face the winner of the St. Mary's-Indiana game in the second round. The second-round game is also in Portland on Saturday.

The Trojans finished the season ranked 22nd in the nation in the AP Poll, their highest ranking in the final regular-season AP poll in 20 years. They are seeded at No. 7 in the Midwest region and will face the No. 10 seeded Miami Hurricanes out of the Atlantic Coast Conference on Friday. The first-round games will be played in Greenville, South Carolina. The Trojans are favored by 1.5 points.

The Hurricanes are led by senior guard Kameron McGusty, a first team ALL-ACC selection who averaged 17.6 points per game and sophomore guard Isaiah Wong, a third team All-ACC selection who averaged 15.2 points per game. The Hurricanes are ranked 6th in the nation in turnovers and 11th in the nation in turnover margin. Miami shoots 74.3% from the free throw line, 83rd in the nation.

The Trojans have struggled with turnovers and poor free throw shooting. The Trojans are ranked at 303 in the nation in turnover margin and 321st in free throw shooting at 66.5%. If those two issues do not get corrected against Miami, the Trojans will have a difficult time advancing in the NCAA tournament. If they are corrected, the second-round opponent is likely to be the Auburn Tigers, who take on Jacksonville State in the first round. The Midwest region will not be easy for the Trojans.

George Laase

Johnny Juzang will need to score big in the NCAA Tournament if the Bruins expect to make a deep run.

Regardless of what happens to the Bruins and the Trojans in the NCAA Tournament, the future is bright for both basketball programs. The Bruins and the Trojans are both ranked in the top ten in the 2022 national basketball recruiting rankings, per 247sports.com. The Bruins have two McDonald's All-Americans that will be coming to Westwood in the fall, one of whom is Amari Bailey, the No. 2 ranked player in the nation. Bailey is a senior at Sierra Canyon high school in Chatsworth.

The other McDonald's All-American coming next season to the Bruins is 6-foot-9 center Adem Bona, from Prolific Prep in Napa. The Trojans are bringing in McDonald's All-American Kijani Wright, a 6-foot-9 power forward from Sierra Canyon high school in Chatsworth and a teammate of Bailey's. These two top 25 schools could be regular contenders in the future for Pac-12 and NCAA basketball titles.

 

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