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Can USC Basketball be the team to beat in the Pac-12?

USC brings back its top four scorers, along with a solid recruiting class, in hopes of being a Pac-12 force next season.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Baylor vs USC Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

In 2017, USC won its first NCAA Tournament game this decade. The fringe tournament team had to prove itself by beating Providence in the First Four just to make it to the final 64. The Trojans showed once again that they belonged when they upset SMU in the first round.

USC narrowly missed its opportunity to get to the Sweet 16 in a close loss to Baylor. It was a solid season for USC, and the team looks poised to have another one in 2018. In fact, the Trojans have a chance to turn some heads next season as one of the top teams in the Pac-12.

The Trojans will have plenty of opportunity to catch up to the Pac-12’s elite. Of last year’s top three, Arizona is the only one coming back as strong. But while Arizona is on its way to being a preseason top three, Oregon and UCLA are getting weaker. Oregon is completely rebuilding its roster, so even if Altman puts out a good team, it likely won’t gel enough to be competitive until later in the season. UCLA is a bit harder to predict. Much like Oregon it lost its stars, but the Bruins also have the luxury of bringing in a top three recruiting class. Still, the Bruins will also have to build chemistry, giving USC’s experienced group room to swoop in as the Pac-12’s second placed team.

USC’s potential is being recognized around the country. Almost every single early top 25 has ranked the Trojans in the top 15. USC had a decent recruiting class (rated 29th on 247sports), but most of its hype is coming from the talent it has returning. The Trojans return their entire starting lineup, and most of their bench. Their recruiting class is headlined by Charles O’Bannon Jr. He is the only top 100 recruit that USC was able to pick up, but he will be able to have an immediate impact off the bench.

USC has improved in each of Andy Enfield’s four years as head coach. These improvements included a 9-win jump in 2016, and a 5-win jump in 2017. With an almost full roster return, USC should be able to improve on last season’s record of 26-10. USC’s postseason outcome has also improved the last two years, losing in the first round in 2016, and making it to the round of 32 this past March. One would hope that with this improvement, the Trojans can make the jump and advance to the second weekend in 2018.

Unlike its football team, USC basketball doesn’t have a storied history to fall back on when its down. Actually, its history is full of struggle. The program doesn’t boast any national titles, or even a Final Four appearance in the modern era. The Trojans have only advanced to the Sweet 16 twice in the last 50 years, making it as far as the Elite 8 in 2001. Still, even with history against the program, USC has a great chance to do something special next season. The Trojans likely won’t usurp the Pac-12 crown from Arizona, but they will probably be right there with them in 2018.