Five questions -- well, four, plus a prediction -- that will go a long way toward deciding today's 7:30 p.m. game against Washington:
1. Is there enough left to play for?
An at-large bid is now officially out of the question for the Trojans (17-13, 9-8) after Thursday night's loss to Washington State, so USC is left playing tonight's game for an opportunity for a better seeding in the Pac-10 tournament next week at Staples Center. We detailed all the different seeding possibilities in an earlierin post, but, to summarize it, the Trojans can assure themselves themselves a No. 4 seeding with a win against the Huskies. They could still finish fourth no matter what they do if Cal and Washington State end up losing, but that's unlikely.
All season long, the stated goal for the Trojans has been to finish at the top of the conference or as close to the top as possible, but, in actuality, they're a middling team in the Pac-10, regardless of what happens tonight.
2. Another big game for Nik Vucevic?
Nikola Vucevic last 10 games have been Player of the Year caliber. He's averaging 21 points and 11 rebounds in his last 10 contests, spanning to late February, and has frequently carried the Trojans during that stretch.
He'll probably have to do that again tonight for USC to have any chance at upsetting the Huskies.
Then again, Vucevic had perhaps the best game of his career against Washington -- 28 points on nine field goal attempts and 14-of-14 free-throw shooting -- in December at the Galen Center, and the Trojans still fell short in a 73-67 overtime loss. Trojans coach Kevin O'Neill memorably said after that game that he was disappointed his team "wasted" a great performance from Vucevic.
3. Washington has so many different scoring sources. Can USC limit them all?
You never know who's going to have a 20-point game for the Huskies. Some days -- like Thursday against UCLA - it'll be freshman guard C.J. Wilcox. Some days -- like the Wazzu loss last week -- it'll be junior leader Isaiah Thomas. Some days -- like the win over USC in December -- nobody will have 20 but five players will finish in double figures, including two with 18 points each.
In that way, Washington's unlike every other team in the conference, with the possible exception of the crosstown Bruins. Even if noted USC defensive stopper Marcus Simmons is able to stop Thomas or Wilcox, that'll still leave able scorers Scott Suggs, Terrence Ross and Venoy Overton matched up against less capable defenders.
Expect one of those players to score in bunches tonight.
4. Will Hec Ed Pavilion be a factor?
Vucevic said this week that the fans at Hec Ed Pavilion's Alaska Airlines Arena are probably the loudest in the Pac-10, which was particularly interesting because the Trojans have actually had plenty of past success playing in Seattle, in stark contrast to many of the other road locales in the conference.
In fact, USC has won two of its last three at Hec Ed, including a 67-64 win last season and 73-59 win in 2008. Two years ago, the Trojans fell just short, losing 78-73.
Playing there clearly hasn't been that much of a challenge. We'll see if it will be Saturday.
5. Who will win?
Washington. The Huskies have lost only four games at home all season, and three of those four were to then-top 15 teams Kentucky, Arizona and Michigan State. The other was to rival Washington State. Lorenzo Romar's squad is solid, one of the more balanced teams in the Pac-10 and not the best matchup for the Trojans with a bevy of guard talent and bigs Matthew Bryan-Amaning, Aziz N'Diaye and Darnell Gant.
Win or loss, USC will likely face Cal next Thursday in the second round of the Pac-10 tournament, so it's not as if it matters all that much for a team that has to win the conference tourney to make it to the Big Dance anyway.