By Andrew Kahn
The USC Trojans won just enough games to receive an NCAA Tournament bid. They’ll have to win one more to reach the official first round. Southern California was placed in Dayton, Ohio, for a play-in game against Providence (Wednesday, approximately 9:00 ET, truTV). The winner will face SMU on Friday in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
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Should the Trojans make it to Tulsa, they’ll need more from sophomore Chimezie Metu than he provided in the Nov. 25 game against SMU. Based on how Metu’s season has gone, they almost certainly will get it.
Metu was limited to 25 minutes in that game, his shortest outing of the season, because of foul trouble. He eventually fouled out, recording six points and four turnovers. Since, the 6’11” forward has been one of the most consistent players in the Pac-12. He earned the league’s Most Improved Player award this season.
Metu was born in the Los Angeles area and moved with family to Nigeria when he was six years old, playing hoops and soccer as a young kid. He returned in sixth grade and graduated from Lawndale High School. The consensus top-50 recruit received an offer from Harvard but committed to Andy Enfield and USC when UCLA’s interest waned.
The athletic big man did drop a season-high 21 points on the Bruins in Pauley Pavilion as a freshman, but he attempted just 170 shots last season, seventh-most on the team. That was because Metu’s offensive game was limited. He excelled in transition, on alley-oops, and cleaning up misses, but struggled to score one-on-one. This year, Metu is first in field goal attempts with 338. He is shooting 55 percent from the field and 72 percent from the foul line (up 20 percentage points from last year). While plenty of his teammates hoist long-range shots, Metu doesn’t, having attempted only three three-pointers in his college career.
While Metu has extended his range past the foul line, he is most impressive in the paint. He can score with hook shots with either hand, and when you’re 6’11”, that shot is very difficult to defend. When there is a path to the rim Metu takes advantage and usually dunks, as he did several times in an upset win over UCLA earlier this season. Metu is up 10 or 15 pounds from last season (he’s now listed at 225), which has prevented him from getting pushed around as much, though he maintains the ability to spin off defenders when needed.
In a situation that would have never happened last year, Metu was the first option on a game-winning play against Colorado earlier this season. He got the ball with his back to the basket, felt his defender and calmly sank a hook shot to put USC ahead. He scored a then-career high 24 points in the game. For the season, Metu is averaging 14.5 points per game (second on the team) and leads the Trojans in rebounds and blocks.
Metu is on the NBA draft radar. Draft Express lists him as the ninth-best sophomore and a first-round pick in 2018. In an interview with the site before this season, Metu said his next step is taking what he can often do in practice and applying it to games. He’s clearly done a better job of that this season, but would like to improve his passing (44 assists, 73 turnovers).
If the Trojans can get past Providence on Wednesday night, SMU will be seeing a much different version of Metu than they remember.
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local. He writes about college basketball and other sports at andrewjkahn.com, and you can find his Scoop and Score podcast on iTunes. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn.