Posted October 28, 2013

USC or UCLA — Which LA program has the upper hand now?

Pac 12, UCLA
USC coach Andy Enfield has taken an early lead in establishing the team as top dog in California college hoops. (Lance King/Getty Images)

USC coach Andy Enfield has taken an early lead in establishing the team as top dog in California college hoops. (Lance King/Getty Images)

Let’s get right to the point: The narrative since USC hired Andy Enfield and UCLA hired Steve Alford back in the spring is that USC made a bold, imaginative hire and that UCLA struck out. And just about everything that has happened since those hires were announced has reinforced that storyline. Alford struggled through his opening weeks, getting repeatedly hammered for his handling of a sexual assault case involving one of his players at Iowa 11 years early, before finally apologizing more than a week after his first press conference at UCLA. Meanwhile, Andy Enfield was appearing on The Tonight Show, chumming around with Jay Leno and Charlie Sheen and discussing, among other things, his supermodel wife. While Enfield was putting together a superstar group of assistant coaches, Alford put together a less buzzworthy staff. And when the two coaching staffs went head to head in the recruitment of local point guard Jordan McLaughlin, it was USC that came out on top, reinforcing the story that it was USC that was the hip and happening program while UCLA was trailing far behind. Even a seemingly innocuous mid-practice comment from Enfield earlier this month made the news cycle and reinforced the idea that UCLA was old and boring: “If you want to play slow, go to UCLA.”

So clearly, USC has all the momentum, UCLA is about to take a dive, and the next thing you know, the Galen Center will be the basketball mecca in Southern California, right? Well, not so fast. Because while this has been, without a doubt, a strong offseason for USC and a poor one for UCLA, here are the two teams’ records since those hires were made: USC: 0-0, UCLA: 0-0. And when games tip off next week, UCLA is expected to be one of the best teams in the Pac-12 and a national Top 25 team, while USC is picked to finish right around the bottom of the conference standings. Enfield and the Trojans will need to prove that they can sustain forward momentum while likely disappearing from the national conversation and playing in front of sparse crowds. Meanwhile, the Bruins will find themselves in high-profile games like their battle with Duke at Madison Square Garden or their lone 2014 regular season game against Arizona in Pauley Pavilion. Or any number of other Pac-12 games that are expected to have an impact on the conference race.

Will Enfield still be the toast of the town if his team finishes 13-16 on the year (as projected by Ken Pomeroy)? And if Alford can turn Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams, and Zach LaVine into another 20-win team (as expected) with an invitation to the Big Dance, doesn’t that mean UCLA, come April, will be the team with all the momentum in the city? While Alford clearly struck out with his first handful of recruits, if guys like Ben Howland and Steve Lavin and Jim Harrick can recruit to Westwood, you can bet Alford will too. Enfield is riding the momentum right now, sure, but he and his program are certainly spotting UCLA quite a lead. That margin can be made up in time, but Enfield will have to do it after giving up most of the momentum he’s built once the games start. Throw in all the natural recruiting advantages that UCLA basketball has over its crosstown rival (facilities, history, location, not to mention the great offseason run on the UCLA campus) and while things have certainly started slowly for Alford, his advantages are far too great to change the pecking order. Enfield can ultimately find success at USC, but things would have to drastically change for Troy to become the predominant college basketball program in Los Angeles.

Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) is a columnist for Rush the Court’s Pac-12 microsite, featuring news, commentary and analysis devoted to the Pac-12.

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12 comments
ZonaZoo2014
ZonaZoo2014

San Diego State is such an impressive basketball powerhouse ... oh wait!! They have proven absolutely NOTHING! One Sweet Sixteen in their existence and 9 total tournament appearances. Let me know when you have 25 NCAA appearances in a ROW! If you make it 21 more times consecutively you may begin to be on Arizona's level. SDSU fans need to realize just how pathetic your program is compared to most of the PAC. Just because you've come a little ways in the past decade doesn't mean you are the best team in SoCal. You are the best in San Diego by default so go ahead and brag about that for no reason. At least USC as reached an Elite 8 semi-recently and won a real conference tournament. Go home SDSU fans, you're drunk.

RichRamos
RichRamos

SDUS , LOL< L<OL< LOL< LOL<LOL!!!!!..in what sperm drinking!!!

ChicoRivera
ChicoRivera

Is this a joke?!  Everybody knows that SDSU runs Cali...get informed.

SDSpaceCowboy
SDSpaceCowboy

This is a ridiculous story as the number one collegiate program in California is San Diego State.

muser
muser

Both teams have no shot at being nationally relevant this year. 

gary41
gary41

Here comes another new writer on the scene, dredging up Steve Alford comments from the past.  Everything in here is old news-not worth anything at all.  We'll try to remember your cute name and thanks for the quick read....  

smoothio
smoothio

I think the premier SoCal program right now is the team that beat both UCLA and USC last year, has a better recent track record for tourney invites, and has 4 Top 100 recruits committed for 2014: San Diego State.

SDSpaceCowboy
SDSpaceCowboy

@ZonaZoo2014 Oh, and forgot to mention SDSU's current 33-game win streak vs. teams in the state of California, the longest in-state streak in the nation, which includes multiple games during that time vs. your Pac-12 California sisters, including Cal, SC, and UCLA, the latter two of which SDSU swept last year away from home.


SDSpaceCowboy
SDSpaceCowboy

@ZonaZoo2014 Actually, you go home Zonie. Why do you feel the need to care about an in-state conversation that doesn't involve your program? Unless, of course, you feel the need to unnecessarily prop up your four fellow Pac-12 sisters in California in order to somehow rationalize your program's wins and losses against them. Congrats, you're numero uno in a two-horse basketball state. Wow. Your platitudes can echo hollow off the Grand Canyon walls for all we care here in California. Now shoo, go away. No other D-1 program in California has more wins or has drawn more fans in the past five years. Only stating fact. Sorry the "new money" argument tweaks a painful nerve in your "old money" sense of entitlement. And for sake of a good laugh, please let us know exactly which of the Pac-12 programs in your esteemed opinion you deem better than "pathetic" SDSU, since, as you state, "most" are. That's a good one. At least we're taught to live in the present at Montezuma Mesa! LOL. There have been times, particularly in the recent past, when winning that "real conference tournament" of yours was the only way to guarantee a spot in the NCAA tournament the Pac-12 was so putrid. Here's how SDSU compares with your beloved Golden State-based Pac-12 sisters over the past DECADE in winning percentage: UCLA (.685); SDSU (.676); Stanford (.622); Cal (.584); USC (.539). SDSU was the ONLY D-1 program in California to rank in the top 40 in attendance last year. The Mountain West outdrew the Pac-12 in attendance last year to boot. So, if it's OK with you, we'll continue to feel comfortable staking our claim, thank you very little.


ZonaZoo2014
ZonaZoo2014

@smoothio What about the team that lost to Andy Enfield's #15 seeded FGCU team last year? Selective memory? Methinks so.

SDSpaceCowboy
SDSpaceCowboy

@smoothio 

...and neither of SDSU's wins were even at home against the Bruins (in Anaheim, where rabid Aztec fans still outnumbered Bruin fans 2:1 despite the fact the arena is closer to Westwood than Montezuma Mesa) or the Trojans (Galen Center, a home game for USC).

SDSpaceCowboy
SDSpaceCowboy

@ZonaZoo2014 @smoothio Yo, ZonaZoo, firstly, Georgetown lost to that same FGCU team by the same margin as SDSU in the tournament, if I recall. Does that somehow make Georgetown unworthy of any of its past accomplishments, recent or otherwise, by your "selective" deduction? You must have been hungover and absent the day they tried to teach logic in Tucson. Secondly, what are you even doing interjecting your Tucson-biased, cow-town drivel into this conversation? Go beat your chest about being the top dog in a two-dog state. Oh, wait, guess we better say three-dog state so we can include newly minted for-profit D-1 powerhouse Grand Canyon.