A few mere weeks ago, both USC and Louisville believed that they would be participating in the NCAA Tournament.
Now, the two teams bring seemingly different attitudes into the second round of the NIT even though previous results would suggest otherwise.
Last week, when the selection committee’s bracket came out for the annual March Madness, the Cardinals and Trojans found themselves on the outside looking in. A later report from the NCAA confirmed that both squads indeed narrowly missed the tournament.
USC coach Andy Enfield addressed the press that night and expressed his disappointment. “We were in shock,” Enfield said. “I don’t think anyone saw this coming.”
As expected, the two schools were given top seeds in the NIT, a consolation for not qualifying for the Big Dance. However, a report appeared the following morning claiming that the Louisville players were not in favor of accepting the invite.
“When you’re emotional, you’re still sad about all the NCAA Tournament stuff, and you make assumptions – you make decisions – that you don’t know what the consequences are,” said senior leader Anas Mahmoud, according to the Courier Journal. “But when we went to sleep and we woke up (Monday) morning and we met again as a team, we started thinking more broadly of the consequences of our actions and that it’s not just going to affect us right now — it’s going to affect the whole city and the whole program.”
Clearly, the players were uneasy about continuing their season. Being caught up in a national scandal can take its toll, especially when it results in the loss of a star recruit and a legendary coach.
However, getting back to USC, did the different reactions to missing the tournament by the two programs really impact performance?
Enfield mentioned how shocked everyone in the program was when their name did not appear on the Selection Show. It seemed as though USC would be eager to prove themselves in the NIT.
Although they sustained some important injuries, USC beat UNC Asheville by just five points on Tuesday and needed two overtimes to do so. The team did not appear to react like one that should be in the NCAA Tournament.
Meanwhile, Louisville handled Northern Kentucky Tuesday and clobbered Middle Tennessee State on Sunday to advance to the third round. The Cardinals have not performed like a club that does not want to take part in this tournament.
So, is there a correlation between motivation and performance in the NIT? A consolation competition is often a competition in which the top teams underperform because of their disappointment. However, the performances by USC and Louisville prove that this is still college basketball, where the games of March become as unpredictable as any event in sports, no matter the circumstances.