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Big Ten Conference Reset: Will the conference be better top-to-bottom this year?

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The NBA Draft’s Early Entry Deadline has come and gone, and there are a dozen or so truly impactful decisions that are left to be made.

Just about every elite recruit has decided where they will be playing their college ball next season.

The coaching carousel has come to a close.

The transfer market is slowly winding down.

In other words, by now, we have a pretty good feel for what college basketball is going to look like during the 2018-19 season.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at what has happened — and what will happen — in the Big Ten over the next six months.

KEY OFFSEASON STORYLINES

NBA DRAFT DECISIONS: There are still quite a few players that still have stay-or-go decisions that are left to be made. The most significant of the bunch is Maryland wing Kevin Huerter, a potential first-team all-Big Ten player that might be a mid-to-late first round pick in this year’s NBA Draft if he opts to leave.

But he’s far from the only significant name left on the board. Carsen Edwards has yet to officially decide, and there’s a chance that he could be a first-team all-american should he come back for his junior season. Wisconsin’s return to relevancy hinges on Ethan Happ’s return to campus. Charles Matthews is probably the difference between Michigan being a top 25 team and Michigan having to fight for a bid to the NCAA tournament. Michigan State is still awaiting word on Nick Ward. So much about the conference will be settled out in the coming days.

(Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

ARE THERE ANY ELITE BIG TEN TEAMS THIS SEASON?: The Big Ten’s national title drought in basketball has been well-documented. In the past few years, Michigan and Wisconsin have reached the title game, only to fall short and keep the 18-year titleless streak alive.

This season doesn’t look much better for the Big Ten when it comes to the larger national title picture.

Perennial conference favorites like Michigan State, Michigan and Purdue are all expected to be competitive, top-25 caliber teams. Indiana is quickly rising. Maryland has a lot of intriguing pieces that could make them a team to watch. But none of those teams feel like juggernauts, and almost all of them lost significant pieces from last season.

So the big question remains: does the Big Ten have any elite teams this season? We might not know that answer until a few months into the season (Michigan has a habit of being a late-blooming team). For right now, it’s not looking good.

THE BIG TEN ADDED A LOT OF INTRIGUING FRESHMEN: Although the immediate outlook for the Big Ten might not feel so cheery for this season, the future looks pretty solid.

Thanks to most of the league’s teams recruiting at a solid level this past season, there are a lot of exciting young players entering the Big Ten in 2018-19. Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Maryland all added local, top-50 caliber players who will be asked to contribute immediately. Michigan State, Ohio State and the Hoosiers are programs who brought in deep recruiting classes filled with top-100 prospects.

And that’s not even counting other programs like Purdue, Michigan, Northwestern and Rutgers all adding four-star prospects. It might take a few years to see the payoff from some of these classes. But expect a lot of Big Ten teams to turn to freshmen to produce this season.

NO COACHING CHANGES MEANS UNIQUE STABILITY: After the Big Ten had three new head coaches enter last season (Illinois, Indiana and Ohio State) and two more the year-and-a-half before (Rutgers and Wisconsin) there were no coaching changes among the league’s 14 teams this offseason.

That makes for a unique scenario in which the Big Ten won’t have to prepare for unfamiliar coaches and styles of play.

While there are a few Big Ten coaches on the hot seat entering this season (most notably, Minnesota’s Richard Pitino), there’s a stability throughout the league right now when it comes its basketball programs. That could quickly change next season if certain coaches don’t make postseason appearances. But not many power conferences in the country keep all of the same coaches from year to year.

WHO’S GONE?

  • MILES BRIDGES AND JAREN JACKSON JR., Michigan State: Both Bridges and Jackson are expected to be lottery picks in next month’s 2018 NBA Draft as the Spartans were prepared to lose both of them before the season.
  • MORITZ WAGNER, Michigan: The German big man was a breakout player last season as he helped lead the Wolverines to the title game. Michigan is going to miss Wagner’s inside-outside ability on both ends of the floor.
  • JUSTIN JACKSON, Maryland: Never fully recovering from a torn labrum suffered last summer, the 6-foot-8 Jackson only played 11 games last season before shutting it down. This loss certainly stings for the Terps, but they should already be used to playing without Jackson.
  • KEITA BATES-DIOP, Ohio State: Exploding last season as a redshirt junior, the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year was perhaps the most improved player in the nation last season. The Buckeyes will certainly miss Bates-Diop’s unique versatility and scoring prowess.
  • TONY CARR, Penn State: Just as Penn State looked like they were on the verge of a major breakthrough, Carr, a 6-foot-5 sophomore, opted to go pro. But you can’t blame Carr after he became the first player in program history to reach 1,000 points by the end of his sophomore year.
  • COREY SANDERS, Rutgers: A monster at the end of last season during the Big Ten Tournament, the 6-foot-2 Sanders was one of the Big Ten’s most lethal offensive talents. Although Sanders could be reckless and inefficient at times, his undeniable talent helped Rutgers stay competitive against better competition.
(Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)

WHO’S BACK?

  • JAMES PALMER JR. and ISAAC COPELAND JR., Nebraska: Both of Nebraska’s top two scorers coming back to school is huge if the Huskers hope to make it back to the NCAA tournament. Palmer was a revelation last season as he emerged into one of the league’s best players. Copeland is a former top-30 talent who is starting to show signs of his predicted abilities.
  • BRUNO FERNANDO, Maryland: The promising big man is returning for his sophomore season after flirting with the 2018 NBA Draft. A major impact player in limited minutes, the 6-foot-10 Fernando could take an additional leap if he learns to stay out of foul trouble. If Fernando plays more minutes, he could be a double-double threat every game.

WHO’S COMING?

  • ROMEO LANGFORD, Indiana: Langford’s decision to stay home and play for the Hoosiers will be one of the major freshman storylines in college basketball this season. A consensus top-10 national prospect, the 6-foot-5 Langford will be asked to score immediately for Indiana.
  • AYO DOSUNMU, Illinois: Similar to Langford, Dosunmu’s choice to stay in the Land of Lincoln was a big coup for head coach Brad Underwood and Illinois. With an ability to score in bunches, or play a bit on the ball, the 6-foot-5 Dosunmu should see immediate minutes for the Illini.
  • JOE WIESKAMP, Iowa: Another top-50 in-state prospect who is staying home, the 6-foot-6 Wieskamp is one of the most highly-touted Iowa recruits in years. A local legend with over 2,000 career points in high school, the highly-efficient Wieskamp should immediately help the Hawkeyes with his poise and shooting ability.
  • IGNAS BRAZDEIKIS, Michigan: A late-bloomer who had some five-star rankings, the 6-foot-8 Brazdeikis is a gifted left-handed scorer who can make plays from all three levels. Experienced in international competition with the Canadian national team, Brazdeikis could be the latest John Beilein big man to explode.
  • DANIEL OTURU, Minnesota: The springy, 6-foot-9 Oturu is expected to earn immediate playing time in the Minnesota frontcourt after showing promising signs on both ends of the floor. Oturu is also coming off of an April shoulder injury that forced him to have surgery, Oturu is expected to be out all summer.
  • JALEN SMITH, Maryland: A McDonald’s All-American big man, the 6-foot-9 native of Baltimore has a chance to be a major impact for the Terps. Although Smith needs to add weight to compete in the Big Ten, he’ll be aided by the return of Bruno Fernando for his sophomore season.
  • EVAN BOUDREAUX, Purdue: One of the country’s most sought-after grad transfers, Boudreaux will have two years of eligibility remaining after dominating the Ivy League at Dartmouth. A floor-spacing forward who put up 17.6 points and 9.5 rebounds per game in two years with the Mean Green, Boudreaux should help offset the loss of Vincent Edwards.
  • RYAN TAYLOR AND A.J. TURNER, Northwestern: The Wildcats brought in a pair of wing scorers who should help the offense quite a bit this season. The 6-foot-7 Turner sat out last season after coming from Boston College, as he provides good size and shooting ability on the wing. Formerly at Evansville, the 6-foot-5 Taylor poured in 21.2 points per game last season while shooting 42 percent from three-point land.
(Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-BIG TEN TEAM

CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue (POY)
JAMES PALMER JR., Nebraska
ETHAN HAPP, Wisconsin
CHARLES MATTHEWS, Michigan
KEVIN HUERTER, Maryland

WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS

1. MICHIGAN STATE: Although Michigan State fell short of its Final Four aspirations last season, a lot of talent is back for 2018-19. The backcourt of Cassius Winston and Joshua Langford will now be upperclassmen. Bruising big man Nick Ward could also return, giving Michigan State three very experienced double-figure scorers. And head coach Tom Izzo also brought in a deep and talented recruiting class that includes a lot of potential.

2. MARYLAND: If Kevin Huerter returns to school (a major “if” given his NBA Draft combine performance) then the Terps could be a major team to watch for next season. Anthony Cowan is back at point. The frontcourt returns Bruno Fernando while adding Jalen Smith and transfer Schneider Herard. Sophomore guard Darryl Morsell should continue to improve while three four-star prospects (Aaron Wiggins, Eric Ayala and Serrel Smith) have been added on the perimeter. The Terps are balanced and potentially deep.

3. MICHIGAN: The Wolverines have peaked at the right time the past two seasons as the 2018-19 team has plenty to like. If Charles Matthews comes back, then he could emerge as one of the league’s best players after he was outstanding during the final month of the season. Isaiah Livers, Zavier Simpson, Jordan Poole and Jon Teske also return after they all earned at least double-figure minutes last season. And Michigan brings in a loaded five-man recruiting class that includes three four-star prospects and a five-star prospect, Brazdeikis, who should help fill the void left by Moe Wagner.

4. INDIANA: Expectations are rising quickly in Bloomington after head coach Archie Miller brought in a loaded recruiting class to go along with an intriguing young roster. Forward Juwan Morgan developed into an all-league player. Others like Justin Smith and Aljami Durham showed promising signs. And the frontcourt should get a healthy De’Ron Davis and redshirt big man Race Thompson. The five-man freshman class could dictate the ceiling of this team. If Langford can handle the immense pressure he’ll face, then the Hoosiers should be fine.

5. PURDUE: Losing four starters is going to be tough to replace, but if Carsen Edwards returns, he might be the league’s Player of the Year. Around Edwards, the Boilermakers will have to have some solid role guys like Nojel Eastern, Ryan Cline and Matt Haarms step up. Boudreaux should help immediately in the frontcourt as well. Purdue also has some talented four-star freshmen, including in-state guard Eric Hunter, who could contribute.

6. NEBRASKA: During a breakthrough, 22-win season, the Huskers went back to the postseason while building on a foundation for this season. With Palmer, Copeland, point guard Glynn Watson Jr. and Isaiah Roby all returning, this is the year for Nebraska to make a leap into the NCAA tournament. But how will the Huskers handle legitimate expectations? Will Nebraska be able to beat quality competition? They’ll be one of the hunted teams in the league this season. Ask Minnesota and Northwestern how that went for them last season.

7. OHIO STATE: Perhaps the biggest surprise in the country last season, head coach Chris Holtmann took a limited rotation and turned them into a top-25 program. Losing Bates-Diop and his production will hurt, but the Buckeyes have some solid returning starters like point guard C.J. Jackson and big man Kaleb Wesson. With a solid recruiting class, and a quality grad transfer in guard Keyshawn Woods (Wake Forest) Ohio State will be a fascinating team.

8. WISCONSIN: One of the youngest teams in the country last season, Wisconsin should see a number of players make a leap this season. If Ethan Happ returns, the Badgers have a go-to player and consistent double-double threat. The development of promising freshman guard Brad Davison will also be something to watch.

9. IOWA: Defense is going to be the major thing to watch with the Hawkeyes. While this roster has been together for multiple seasons, and can really put up points, the Hawkeyes were one of the worst power-conference defenses in the nation last season. If Fran McCaffery’s ballclub can get more stops, they have the offensive firepower to compete with most teams in the conference.

10. PENN STATE: The NIT champions were gutted by the early departure of Carr, but the Nittany Lions still have plenty of talent coming back. Penn State will have to replace its backcourt of Carr and senior Shep Garner, but Mike Watkins and Lamar Stevens are a more-than-capable frontcourt. The development of players like Josh Reaves will be key.

11. NORTHWESTERN: After a massively disappointing season, Northwestern is also hoping to bounce back. Losing seniors like Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsey hurts, but the Wildcats get most of the frontcourt back along with two talented wing transfers. Finding stability at point to replace McIntosh might be the key to Northwestern’s entire outlook.

12. MINNESOTA: The talent is in place for a Minnesota revival, but a bizarre second-half collapse leaves the Golden Gophers with more questions than answers. Jordan Murphy and Amir Coffey are proven Big Ten players. But the frontcourt needs Oturu to play well and Isaiah Washington needs to be steady at point.

13. ILLINOIS: Last season was difficult for Illinois. And it won’t get easier after the early exits of frontcourt starters Leron Black (pro) and Michael Finke (Grand Canyon). Dosunmu’s addition certainly helps, but the Illini are a very young team without any proven frontcourt talents. Underwood is known for turnarounds, but he needs more talent on the roster to make that happen.

14. RUTGERS: The loss of point guard Corey Sanders will sting, but head coach Steve Pikiell has some intriguing young pieces to work with — particularly in the backcourt. This will be sophomore Geo Baker’s team now, and freshman guards like Montez Mathis and Ron Harper Jr. are also expected to contribute. The frontcourt will be a major question mark.

Thursday’s Things To Know: No. 6 Michigan State outlasts Nebraska, Ja Morant dunks all over the OVC and the Pac-12 has a sole leader

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There wasn’t a matchup of top-25 teams Thursday, but there were competitive games across the country, starting in Lincoln with Michigan State and Nebraska and ending in Tempe with Oregon State and Arizona State. Pl, there was a dunk that may have qualified as national emergency. Here’s what you need to know:

NO. 6 MICHIGAN STATE STAYS PERFECT IN THE B1G WITH WIN AT NEBRASKA

Nebraska looked like it had the sixth-ranked Spartans on the ropes in Lincoln with the score knotted at 44 just inside the midpoint of the second half. Then, though, Michigan State ripped off a 7-0 run and never looked back – despite an ugly final minute – to claim a 70-64 win over the Huskers to move to 16-2 on the year and 7-0 in the Big Ten.

The win is most notable for the Spartans as it once again came without the services of Joshua Langford or Nick Ahrens, both of whom continue to be sidelined with injuries. With both on the shelf, Cassius Winston put together a game to bolster his player of the year candidacy, scoring a career-best 29 points on 9 of 15 shooting while dishing out six assists and grabbing three rebounds. Winston doesn’t have the game that always pops off the TV screen, but he’s the type of veteran point guard that can help propel a team to a national title, especially if Langford comes back healthy and productive.

For the Huskers, it’s certainly not a bad loss given Michigan State’s profile, but the opportunity cost has to sting. Last year Tim Miles’ team racked up wins, but missed out on the tournament because not enough of them were of the quality variety. Here, they had a top-10 team staggered with less than 10 minutes to play at home but couldn’t close the deal. The good news for them is they’ve already got a couple of nice wins on the resume, but most importantly the B1G isn’t the wasteland it was last year, leaving them with bountiful opportunities to pick up meaningful victories before March. To do that, though, they can’t have James Palmer, Jr. going 6 of 21 from the floor like he did against the Spartans. To Palmer’s credit, though, he got to the line 11 times and made every attempt to finish with 24 points while grabbing eight rebounds and recording three assists. Shooting 5 of 26 (19.6 percent) from 3-point range won’t win you too many games, either.

 

STAY OUT OF JA MORANT’S WAY

If you wanna jump with Ja Morant, God bless you, but it ain’t going to work out well for you. Eastern Illinois learned that lesson Thursday as Morant unleashed yet another must-see dunk.

On top of that, the future lottery pick had 27 points and nine assists while shooting 11 of 16 from the floor and 4 of 5 from 3-point range. He’s an unsolvable problem for the OVC.

 

WASHINGTON IS ALONE IN FIRST IN THE PAC-12

Congratulations to the Washington Huskies, the last remaining undefeated in Pac-12 play. It may not be an honor, but it’s something, at least.

Mike Hopkins’ team blasted Stanford (80-64) while Arizona lost at home to Oregon (59-54) and Oregon State was behind big before making things tight in Tempe and eventually losing to Arizona State (70-67), which has now won three of four. There’s been plenty written about the Pac-12, but the league continues to do itself damage, most notable with the Wildcats taking a loss in Tuscon to a depleted Ducks team. That’s not going to do much for the conference’s reputation or their own NCAA tournament resume.

Zach Norvell leads No. 5 Gonzaga over Loyola Marymount 73-55

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SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Zach Norvell Jr. scored 17 points and No. 5 Gonzaga used a stout defense to beat Loyola Marymount 73-55 on Thursday night, the eighth consecutive win for the Bulldogs since a pair of losses knocked them out of the top spot in The AP Top 25.

Brandon Clarke added 13 points, Corey Kispert 12 and Rui Hachimura 10 for Gonzaga (17-2, 4-0 West Coast), which beat Loyola Marymount for the 20th straight time. The Zags have won 18 straight games at home.

James Batemon led Loyola Marymount (13-5, 1-3) with 12 points.

Loyola used a slow-down offense and stingy defense to keep the scoring low, and it mostly accomplished that goal.

Gonzaga, which averages 92 points a game, led just 17-16 midway through the first half.

The Zags went on a 19-6 run the rest of the half to take a 36-22 lead at halftime. The Lions shot only 36 percent in the first and committed 11 turnovers.

A 3-pointer by Norvell highlighted a 14-2 Gonzaga run to open the second half that lifted the Bulldogs to a 50-24 lead. Meanwhile, the Lions were missing eight of their first 10 shots.

Loyola Marymount made just five of its first 20 shots in the second half, and fell behind 61-35 with less than 8 minutes left.

BIG PICTURE

Loyola Marymount: The Lions opened the season 11-1, but have dropped off since … The Lions ranked 13th in the NCAA in defense at 61.2 points per game … Their last win in this lop-sided series was in 2010. They have not won in Spokane since 1991 … The Lions have already surpassed last season’s 11 wins.

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs are cruising toward another WCC title, outscoring conference foes by nearly 30 points per game… The Zags suffered back-to-back losses to No. 3 Tennessee and at No. 13 North Carolina in mid-December and have not lost since … They lead the nation in field goal shooting at 52.6 percent and are second in scoring at 92.2 points per game … Gonzaga and Marquette are the only programs with both men’s and women’s teams in the Top 15.

UP NEXT

Loyola Marymount hosts Pepperdine on Saturday.

Gonzaga plays at last place Portland on Saturday.

Cassius Winston’s career-high 29 lifts No. 6 Spartans over Huskers

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LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Four nights after Tom Izzo called out Cassius Winston for his poor play in Michigan State’s previous game, the Spartans’ star point guard responded better than his coach would have expected.

Winston scored a career-high 29 points to go over 1,000 for his career, had six assists and played tough defense on Glynn Watson Jr. while leading No. 6 Michigan State past Nebraska 70-64 on Thursday night.

“I told him before the game, ‘You’re going to get measured on how you bounce back,’ ” Izzo said.

Winston more than passed the test.

“Cassius, the way he ran that whole thing, he was like a quarterback dissecting a defense,” Izzo said.

In a win at Penn State on Sunday, Winston had seven turnovers, and his 11 points were his fewest since Florida held him to 10 on Dec. 8. Izzo told reporters it was one of the worst games Winston had played in his three seasons.

Of the Spartans’ first 18 field goals against Nebraska, Winston scored eight of them and had assists on five others. He held Watson, the Huskers’ hottest player the last week, to 3-of-13 shooting from the field and eight points.

Izzo’s criticism motivated him, he said.

“Just get back on track, playing at the level I was playing at,” Winston said. “I want to play at the highest standard, my best ability. I’ve got to do that for this team and put us in the best situation.”

Michigan State (16-2, 7-0) won its 11th straight game overall and extended its school-record Big Ten winning streak to 19 games. The Cornhuskers (13-5, 3-4) had their school-record 20-game home win streak end.

Nick Ward added 15 points and 10 rebounds for his second straight double-double. He also made his first 3-pointer of the season and second of his career.

“That should keep him happy for a week or 10 days,” Izzo said.

The Spartans led by 12 points in the final 2 minutes, but Nebraska cut the lead to four twice before Matt McQuaid made a pair of free throws for his first points with 14.2 seconds to put the game away.

Nebraska shot a season-low 32.8 percent and was just 5 of 26 on 3-pointers, 1 of 12 in the second half.

“I wasn’t very pleased with our offense in any way, shape or form,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said.

James Palmer, who led Nebraska with 24 points, struggled mightily from the field, going 6 of 21, but he made all 11 of his free throws.

“Palmer’s a good player, and I feel like I did a pretty good job on him,” McQuaid said. “I just tried to do what I could. He’s a bigger, more physical guard. I tried to get a couple charges, but things weren’t going my way. So I had to figure out different ways to guard him.”

Nebraska had hoped to build off its win at No. 25 Indiana on Monday night but couldn’t get going. The Huskers were trying for their first win over a top-10 opponent in nine tries.

“You need to build and play from the front against these teams,” Miles said.

He found no consolation in playing the Spartans close for most of the game, which had 11 lead changes and six ties.

“There are no moral victories,” Miles said. “I’m utterly mad and disappointed.”

BIG PICTURE

Michigan State: This was a gut-check win for the Spartans, who were without Joshua Langford (ankle) for a fifth straight game and Kyle Ahrens (back) for a second in a row.

Nebraska: The Huskers were feeling pretty good about themselves after an impressive win at No. 25 Indiana on Monday, and they had an amped standing-room crowd on hand. But they could never find rhythm until it was too late against the nation’s No. 3 team in field-goal defense.

HE SAID IT

“We were paranoid of this game. They didn’t make shots tonight. Those things happen sometimes. Tim’s got a great team that’s going to be an NCAA Tournament team, and I hope they keep on winning now.” — Izzo.

UP NEXT

Michigan State hosts No. 19 Maryland on Monday.

Nebraska visits Rutgers on Monday.

WATCH: Ja Morant can’t be stopped

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The Ohio Valley Conference is just not equipped to deal with Ja Morant.

The Murray State guard just keeps dunking on anyone and everyone that stands in his way, the latest victim coming Thursday night at Eastern Illinois.

There’s just so much to love about this dunk. The athleticism. The explosiveness. The aggressiveness. The ferocity. It’s thunder meeting lightning at the rim.

If there’s someone who can stop Morant, a likely top-10 pick in June, it sure ain’t in the OVC.

UCLA, USC meet amid rocky seasons for crosstown rivals

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — A fired coach. A transfer. Suspensions. Injuries. UCLA and Southern California have experienced it all barely halfway through the season.

Things began promisingly enough for the Bruins. They were an AP Top 25 team and were predicted to finish second in the Pac-12 before early consecutive losses to ranked Michigan State and North Carolina knocked them out. Then came stunning defeats at home to mid-majors Belmont and Liberty. Those precipitated the biggest shocker of all: coach Steve Alford’s firing on New Year’s Eve.

Murry Bartow was quickly tabbed as interim coach for the Bruins (10-7, 3-1 Pac-12). They’ve won three out of four games under him.

“We had a lot of ups and downs,” UCLA freshman Moses Brown said, “but I think we caught our stride and the sky is the limit for us.”

USC was predicted to finish fifth in a weakened Pac-12. The Trojans got off to a 5-2 start before dropping four in a row. They regrouped to reel off four straight wins, including a home sweep to open conference play. But they dropped a pair on the road, where freshman Kevin Porter Jr. got suspended last weekend.

In the midst of rocky seasons, the crosstown rivals meet Saturday at Galen Center. The Bruins have won four in a row in the series and are 8-4 at USC’s arena since it opened.

“Coming off a two-game losing streak, we’re kind of hoping this is a game that we can bounce back,” USC’s Nick Rakocevic said. “We want to be put in a good position for the rest of the Pac-12.”

Both teams would likely need to win the Pac-12 tournament title to earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

Last March, the Bruins played in the First Four for the first time in school history and lost. The Trojans were snubbed by the selection committee despite finishing second in the Pac-12 for the first time in 25 years after losing twice to UCLA.

“We play UCLA twice, but there’s 16 other games. You have to do well the rest of the league,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “Whether you win or lose these games, yes, it’s great for a rivalry, it’s great for another win in your conference, but it’s a long Pac-12 season. We try to keep that in perspective no matter who we play even if it’s UCLA.”

The Trojans (9-8, 2-2) have played over half their games with eight or fewer scholarship players because of injuries and the recent transfer of Jordan Usher, who was suspended before he left.

“Nothing surprises us at this point,” Enfield said. “The injuries and distractions have had a significant impact on our team.”

Porter was back practicing with the Trojans this week, but he hasn’t been cleared to play in games.

“He’s working on some things off the court. He has very clear expectations that he has to meet,” Enfield said. “As he progresses, we will reevaluate his status.”

Bartow said the Bruins will prepare as if Porter will play Saturday. Before his suspension, Porter missed time with a leg injury.

USC’s Bennie Boatwright, a local product who was recruited by UCLA, has been on an offensive tear in his last seven games. He scored a career-high 37 points in an overtime loss at Oregon State and is averaging a team-leading 17.1 points. The Bruins are led by Kris Wilkes at 17.3 points a game.

“Inside, they’ve got some really, really good players,” said Bartow, who has the Bruins playing at a faster pace and zipping the ball around.

One of the intriguing matchups on Saturday will be the 6-foot-11 Rakocevic and Brown, who at 7-1 is the tallest player at UCLA in decades. Rakocevic averages 14.9 points and a league-leading 9.5 rebounds. Brown averages 11.9 points and 9.0 rebounds

“It’s going to be fun going against somebody like that,” Rakocevic said.

A famous name associated with the rivalry won’t be on the court.

USC’s Chuck O’Bannon, the son of former UCLA star Charles O’Bannon, is expected to seek a medical redshirt. The sophomore broke his pinky finger in practice in November, had surgery, got the cast off in December and it hasn’t healed properly. He’s still has pain, too, Enfield said.

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