USC has the No. 10 seed and a first-round matchup with No. 7 Michigan State in the East Region

It wasn’t always the smoothest ride, leading up to the long wait on Selection Sunday. But for the third straight season, USC is on its way to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, punching its ticket as the No. 10 seed.

The Trojans will face Michigan State, the No. 7 seed in the East Region, on Friday in Columbus, Ohio.

USC (22-10) spent most of the season on the championship bubble, shifting its status back and forth depending on the week. But early losses in the Pac-12 tournament prevented the Trojans from matching the longest streak in program history with three consecutive bids.

Like USC, Michigan State (19-12) enters the Big Ten Conference tournament after a largely uneventful season. The Spartans have not won three in a row since the beginning of January.

But Tom Izzo, one of Michigan State’s most respected championship coaches, is proud. Izzo is the active leader in college basketball among eight coaches in Final Four appearances. His 53 NCAA championship wins rank third among active coaches.

Another trip to the NCAA tournament for Troy under head coach Andy Enfield was by no means assured in November. USC’s season-opening loss to Enfield’s former team, Florida Gulf Coast, finished 7-11 in the Atlantic Sun Conference. It has fallen short of expectations for USC.

USC guard Drew Peterson, shown in a February game against Stanford, has been slowed the past two weeks by a stiff back.

(Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press)

It took another month or so for the Trojans to finally find their footing. But soon, the pieces began to fit. Sophomore Kobe Johnson took a big step forward, emerging as one of the best perimeter defenders in college basketball. Freshman Tre White became a reliable third-down scorer, stepping into a big void in USC’s offense. By January, another talented freshman was brought in as Vincent Iwuchukwu returned from cardiac arrest to help solidify a paper-thin frontcourt.

A dramatic win over UCLA in January heralded the Trojans’ late arrival and his rise to scoring fame. Boogie Ellis scored 31 in that win over the Bruins and would lead the Pac-12 from there, averaging 24 points per game and setting career highs twice in USC’s last dozen or so games.

However, Ellis alone could not always mount a consistent attack. A late road trip through Oregon resulted in the Trojans losing two more to non-tournament teams, including 11-21 Oregon State. Losing to Arizona State in the Pac-12 tournament a month later wouldn’t inspire much confidence either.

But the selection committee had already seen enough to put USC in the field.

Now, the Trojans will have to hope to get more out of their second leading scorer, Drew Peterson, who has been dealing with a stiff back the past two weeks. USC played through the pain of its loss to Arizona State, but struggled mightily from the field, shooting two for 12.

Without him, USC will have a hard time keeping up with Michigan State, a team known to get hot from three-point range. The Spartans are fourth in college basketball in three-point percentage.

Another long cold snap, and this USC championship run ends as quickly as the last one.

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