SPORTS DIGEST: NCAA Tournament selection committee snubs USC

My interest in college basketball began to wane when every conference in the nation decided to hold a conference tournament at the end of the regular season, with the winner of the conference tournament — not the regular-season champion — receiving the conference’s automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.

If all that mattered to the NCAA was March Madness, that’s when I would get interested.

When the NBA changed its rules to prevent high school seniors from going straight to the pros, thus creating the one-and-done era of college basketball, I became even less interested. If I wanted to go see self-centered basketball players who only wanted to go one-on-one I could go find an AAU game somewhere.

The NCAA almost reeled me back in this year. Then it cut the line. Now the regular season and conference tournaments don’t mean anything apparently.

USC failed to make the NCAA tournament this season despite posting a 23-11 record that was good enough for second place in one of the major conferences in the country and finished second in the conference tournament as well.

The Trojans rating percentage index (RPI) was 34, the highest number of any school not in the tournament. They had a good strength of schedule number, too, meaning they didn’t win 23 games by beating up on lousy non-conference opponents, although they did beat Cal State Fullerton by 42 points early in the season. (Cal State Fullerton won its conference tournament and will play in the NCAA tournament.)

The committee that picks the 68 tournament teams basically chose Arizona State over USC and based the decision on Arizona State’s perfect non-conference record of 12-0. That included wins over Kansas and Xavier, which are both No. 1 seeds in March Madness.

But once conference started, Arizona State was 8-10, with an RPI of 69. So what stats do these guys use to pick the tournament teams or do they sit in a back room and throw darts at a board with teams’ names on them. The first 34 that hit go to the tournament.

Coach Andy Enfield and his players were justifiably angry and disappointed at missing the NCAA Tournament and having to settle for the NIT Tournament. That’s probably why the Trojans played horribly in their NIT opener March 13 at the Galen Center, where it took two overtimes for the Trojans to subdue the University of North Carolina at Asheville, 103-98.

It didn’t help USC that their star big man, Chimezie Metu, decided not to play in the NIT and risk an injury that could hurt his draft status with the NBA in June.

Already missing 6-10 forward Bennie Boatwright due to an injury, the depleted Trojans relied on senior point guard Jordan McLaughlin, who scored 26 points and had 13 assists while playing 41 minutes. Westchester High product Elijah Stewart added 22 points and forward Nick Rakocevic scored 24 points and added 19 rebounds to lead the Trojans.

Their next stop in the NIT will be against Western Kentucky at 8:30 p.m. March 19 at the Galen Center.

BRUINS BOUNCED: USC wasn’t happy about being snubbed by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee, but UCLA wasn’t far behind in its anger.

The Bruins were upset about being placed in one of four “first-round” games (they used to be called play-in games). Then the Bruins compounded the snub by performing poorly and being eliminated from the tournament before it had started for most teams.

The Bruins bowed out of the tournament meekly March 13, losing to St. Bonaventure, 65-58. St. Bonaventure had not won an NCAA Tournament game since 1970 when Bob Lanier was the Bonnies top player.

The loss brought an abrupt end to a season that started poorly when three freshmen were arrested for shoplifting during a season-opening trip to China. The resulting suspensions hurt the Bruins depth and, except for a win over Kentucky, the Bruins never exceeded expectations.

In the season finale, guard Aaron Holiday led the Bruins with 20 points while playing his normal 40 minutes. Unfortunately, Holiday was trying to do too much and turned the ball over 10 times.

Big man Tom Welsh never got into the offensive flow of the game. He grabbed 15 rebounds but scored only two points on one of five shooting.

Of course the Bruins’ early departure from the tournament brought out the fire Steve Alford talk.

UCLA basketball fans are worse than USC football fans. They want every coach to be the next John Wooden and when he isn’t, they want him gone.

Jim Harrick won a national title in 1995 and couldn’t please them. Steve Lavin won 20 games a season and went to the NCAA Tournament six straight years, but when he had a terrible season in 2003, he was gone.

Ben Howland went to three straight final fours at UCLA from 2006 to 2008, but Bruin fans turned on him, too. And now they are turning on Alford.

UCLA fans need to remember that no one besides John Wooden has ever coached 10 college champions in a 12-year period and that is never going to happen again.

Steve Alford has done a good job with the Bruins. This year would have been different had three players not been suspended for shoplifting in China. He already has a good recruiting class for next year.

There aren’t that many great coaches out there.

Ask Cal State Northridge and Pepperdine, who hired former UCLA assistants this week to lead their programs next year.

Northridge hired Mark Gottfried to replace former Inglewood High standout Reggie Theus. Pepperdine hired Compton native Lorenzo Romar to take over its program. Both were assistants under Harrick when UCLA won its last title.

Gottfried has coached at Murray State, Alabama and North Carolina State. Romar returns to Pepperdine, where he coached from 1996 to 1999, after stints at Saint Louis and University of Washington. He was an assistant at Arizona this past season.

Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers has his team playing as well as it has all season. With 16 games to play, the Clippers are in seventh place in the NBA Western Conference and only three and a half games out of third place. (Photo by Nick Koza)

PLAYOFF WATCH: If the playoffs started today, the Clippers would be the seventh seed in the NBA Western Conference. With 16 games left to play, the Clippers are only a game and a half out of fifth place and three and a half games out of third place.

They have three tough games coming up this week against Houston, Oklahoma City and Portland, after defeating Chicago, 112-106 in a sub-standard performance March 13 that was still good enough for a win.

Coach Doc Rivers has the injury-riddled Clippers playing well and they could be a tough playoff opponent for many of the teams ahead of them.

The Lakers are technically still in the playoff hunt, even though they are six and a half games behind the Utah Jazz and the San Antonio Spurs in the West. The Lakers are up to 31 wins now — four more than last year’s team — and are trying to add to that total and possibly reach the .500 mark.

They would have to finish the season by winning 10 of the last 15 games to reach .500, not an impossible task since they are 16-8 in their last 24 games.

Diego Rossi, only 20, is becoming the first star for the Los Angeles Football Club after scoring two goals and assisting on three others in the team’s 5-1 win over Real Salt Lake March 10. Rossi was the first player in MLS since 2009 to account for five goals in a game and was chosen the MLS player of the week. (Photo courtesy of LAFC)

MAKING A SPLASH: The new Los Angeles Football Club continues to make a splash in the Southern California sports scene. LAFC won its second game of the young season March 10, scoring a 5-1 victory over Real Salt Lake.

Diego Rossi was involved in all five goals, scoring two and assisting on the other three. It was only the sixth time in league history and the first time since 2008 that a player was involved in five goals in a game.

For his efforts, Rossi was chosen the Major League Soccer player of the week.

LAFC doesn’t play again until March 31 when it plays its first local game against the Los Angeles Galaxy at the StubHub Center in Carson.

The Galaxy has started the season at 1-1.


$270 million renovation project underway for Coliseum

LOS ANGELES — Although construction is already under way, a groundbreaking ceremony Jan. 29 officially marked the beginning of a two-year, $270 million renovation of Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, while United Airlines confirmed its purchase of naming rights for the venue.

Under the 16-year naming-rights deal, the stadium will be known as United Airlines Memorial Coliseum, beginning in August 2019.

“The university has a time-honored commitment to the Coliseum, serving as its longest enduring tenant,” USC President C.L. Max Nikias said.

“USC is honored to be the caretaker of this Los Angeles treasure. Together with United, we can ensure the Coliseum’s future as a world-class venue and true community asset.”

Details of the naming-rights deal were not released, although unconfirmed media reports surfaced last year that put the value of the deal at $70 million over 16 years.

The Coliseum renovation project is not expected to impact the Trojans’ 2018 home football season, and it is expected to be completed in time for the team’s 2019 home opener. The Coliseum is also serving as home for the Los Angeles Rams while the NFL team’s stadium is built in Inglewood.

Plans call for an overall reduction in the Coliseum’s seating capacity, from 93,607 to about 77,500. All of the seats will be replaced, and the project will include handrails, new suites, upgraded entryways and video screens.

The Coliseum was built in 1923 and last underwent substantial renovations 20 years ago when $93 million was spent to repair damage from the 1994 Northridge earthquake. The stadium has hosted two Olympics, two Super Bowls, a World Series, a papal Mass and visits by three U.S. presidents.

Other elements of the renovation include:

  • Adding aisles, widening seats and increasing leg room in some sections.
  • Building a structure on the south side of the stadium including suites, loge boxes, club seats, a concourse and press box.
  • Restoration of the peristyle to resemble its original design.
  • Updating Wi-Fi technology.
  • Additional concession stands.
  • Replacing electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems.
  • And installing new field and stadium lighting.

Following the project, one-third of the seats are expected to be reserved for donors who make “a one-time capital gift and are members of the Trojan Athletic Fund.” The other two-thirds will not require any additional donation, with USC officials saying they are “committed to providing affordable seating options” for fans.

The student and band seats will not be relocated.

“Over almost a century, the Coliseum has endured as one of the world’s greatest sports and entertainment venues, a civic monument, and architectural icon in the heart of Los Angeles,” county Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, a member of the Coliseum Commission, said. “Through this restoration project, USC continues to demonstrate its responsible stewardship of the stadium. With support from United Airlines, USC is ushering in a modern era for this historic landmark and preserving its legacy for generations to come.”


SPORTS DIGEST:Dodgers are one win away from the World Series

This is the best time of the year to be a sports fan. The college and professional football season is in full swing, the basketball and hockey seasons are starting and baseball has its postseason.

It’s a great time to be alive, unless you’re a UCLA football fan.

As of this writing, the Dodgers are up three games to none against the Chicago Cubs in the National League Championship Series. By the time you read this, they could have qualified for the World Series for the first time in 29 years.

It has been a crazy season for the Dodgers. They have won more games then any other Los Angeles Dodgers team. Had the best 60-game run in team history only to follow that with a 1-16 stretch that put a considerable amount of their fan base on suicide watch.

But after winning the first six games of the postseason — three against the Arizona Diamondbacks to win the National League Division Series and three more against the Cubs — the Dodgers are on the verge of the World Series.

They have done in with tremendous pitching, especially out of the bullpen, and clutch hitting. I wasn’t sold on Dodger President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman’s baseball philosophy until this year.

Friedman believes in building a deep, solid team system that can win games in a variety of ways — a team that isn’t dependent on one single player.

That has been the Dodgers this season — particularly in the playoffs. The bullpen gave up four runs in the series against Arizona. It has allowed four base runners in 10-plus innings in the Cubs series.

Overall, the pitching staff has allowed 15 runs in six postseason games. Fourteen of those 15 runs came on home runs. In other words, if the Dodger pitchers keep you in the ball park, you aren’t going to score very often.

Many Dodgers fans gasped when they learned Oct. 14 that Corey Seager would not play in the Cubs series because of a bad back. No worries.

Charley Culberson, who had been stashed in Oklahoma City all years at the Dodgers triple-A minor league affiliate, was activated and has hit .333 in the series and fielded his position well.

Culberson hit the walk-off home run that won the Dodgers game last season on Vin Scully’s last night in the broadcast booth. He will be a steady player until Seager gets back.

Cody Bellinger, who carried the Dodgers offense on his back since he was recalled at the end of April, has slumped in the postseason with only one home run, but Chris Taylor, Yasiel Puig, Justin Turner and Austin Barnes have taken turns carrying the load.

And Kenley Jansen is showing the rest of the country that he is the best closer in baseball.

The Dodgers are five victories away from a parade. That’s closer than they have been in 29 years.

ON TO SOUTH BEND: With a win against Notre Dame Oct. 21, the USC Trojans could creep back in the Top 10 of the nation’s college football programs.

The No. 11 Trojans have either underachieved this season or they were highly overrated, depending on your viewpoint. A win over Notre Dame, ranked 13th, would set the Trojans back on course for a berth in the Pac 12 Championship game. If they win the rest of their games, there is no reason to think they can’t play in the college football playoffs.

The Trojans have turned the ball over too much and, with the exception of the Stanford game, have let their opponents hang around too close to the lead.

They have dodged bullet after bullet this season except against Washington State. Quarterback Sam Darnold has struggled throwing too many interceptions and fumbling the ball away. Coach Clay Helton might want to simplify things and let Ronald Jones run the ball more to take the heat off Darnold.

SERRA GRAD SHINES: Khalil Tate, who starred at Serra High School in Gardena, probably would have liked to stay closer to home and play for UCLA or USC. The Trojans and Bruins had other options at quarterback so Tate went to the University of Arizona, where he started seven games last season as a freshman after the Wildcats starting quarterback got hurt.

This year, Tate has capitalized on an injury to the starting quarterback again and has led Arizona to two consecutive wins, against Colorado and UCLA.

Against Colorado Oct. 7, Tate ran for 327 yards, the most ever by a Division 1 quarterback in a game.

The Bruins slowed him down to only 230 yards Oct. 14 as the Wildcats defeated the Bruins, 47-30.

Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez had to tell the Tucson media this week why Tate didn’t start the season opener. He said Brandon Dawkins, who did start the opener, had a better training camp than Tate and that Tate was bothered by a sore shoulder.

The shoulder is healthy now and there is nothing wrong with Tate’s legs, as he averaged more than 19 yards a carry against Colorado and UCLA.

With the loss to the Wildcats, the Bruins fell to 3-3 and closer to oblivion.

After missing most of the preseason with a sprained ankle, Lonzo Ball is expected to start at point guard Oct. 19 when the Lakers open the 2017-18 season against the Clippers at Staples Center.
(Courtesy photo)

IT’S NBA TIME: The NBA season opens for the Clippers and the Lakers Oct. 19 with the two teams facing each other at Staples Center.

The Clippers have been the best team in Staples for the last four years, but no one knows how good they will be this season without Chris Paul at point guard.

The Clippers strength is their front court where DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin are the best combination of big men in the league. Of course, the NBA in 2017 is not a league for big men. The most dominant players today play on the wing where they can pull up and shoot three-pointers all night.

Whether the Clippers can thrive with Griffin and Jordan as their stars remains to be seen. They also lost J.J. Reddick and Jamal Crawford from last year’s team, meaning there are lots of points for the newcomers to score.

The Lakers are — they hope — in the final year of rebuilding. If nothing else, they should be fun to watch.

Rookie point guard Lonzo Ball sprained an ankle and missed most of the preseason, but he should be ready to go when the opening bell sounds.

The Lakers are still young and a 35-win effort would seem like a good season for them. Anymore wins than that would be gravy. The Clippers hope to hang on to a playoff berth.