The USC men's basketball team continues its five-game home stand with the SIUE Cougars Monday night. Southern Illinois-Edwardsville (3-7) has struggled this season losing seven games in a row at one point, but they have played much better recently. The Cougars have won their last two games and may finally be finding some cohesion among a number of transfer players.
But this is a game the Trojans (9-2) need to win. They search for win No. 10 and improving to 8-0 at the Galen Center with just one more game remaining until the Pac-12 schedule looms.
Here's what to watch, where you can see the game, a flashback to the last time these teams played and the projected starting lineups.
What to Watch:
Return of the JuJu - After missing a game with Achilles tendonitis, Julian Jacobs was back in the lineup on Thursday against Cal Poly and cruised into the record books. Jacobs dished out a Galen Center record 13 assists -- two shy of Brandon Granville's school record set in 1999. He also scored 10 points to record his second double-double of the year.
The maturation of Jacobs and other key returners has been the biggest difference for USC this season. No longer is he leaving his feet and getting himself stuck in the air with nowhere to go with the basketball. Jacobs has taken over the lead guard role and has become the Trojans' primary facilitator. He has learned to slow the game down while still consistently attacking. That has resulted in him averaging 6.1 assists per game -- tops in the Pac-12. He also is scoring 12.0 points per game and grabbing an average of 5.8 rebounds.
Taking the 101 route - USC is coming off of its second 101-point performance of the season. With the shot clock winding down and the Trojans forced to take one final shot, Malik Marquetti got USC over the triple-digit barrier with a banked-in three-pointer. After not getting to 100 points since 2002, USC has done it twice in 11 games.
This is the first season the Trojans have had multiple 100-point performances since 1997. In the history of the program, USC has only had nine seasons with multiple 100+ point outings. The last time it did it three times in a year was under George Raveling in 1991. That also was the last time USC has scored as many points through its first 11 games. The Trojans have scored 910 points (82.7 average) this season. In 1991, they scored 946 points (86.0) through 11 contests.
Stewing Up a J-Mac Attack - If USC wants to make some noise in the Pac-12 this season, it is going to have to find a way to get Jordan McLaughlin and Elijah Stewart going.
Both players burst forward at the beginning of the season only to have faded recently. McLaughlin's struggles with his face mask to shield his nose that was broken earlier this season have been well publicized, but it's time for him to make the adjustment. He has scored in double figures in just one of six games since the injury and had the second worst offensive output of his career last week against Cal Poly. Possibly even more disconcerting has been the rise in turnovers for McLaughlin. After having just six in the first four games, McLaughlin has had 19 in the last seven games, including three in each of the last three games.
McLaughlin's struggles aren't alone. His fellow sophomore, Stewart, is also in a funk. Stewart has the athleticism and ability to be an absolute star. Many around the program raved about his strong offseason, but he has faded after a big start to the year. He has had just one double-figure scoring output since beginning the season with games of 14, 20 and 18 points. It seems as if he has lost confidence in his jump shot. He is 1-for-10 shooting from outside the arc in the last three games. After finally making a 3-pointer against Cal Poly, he just shook his head. A couple of driving baskets might do him good to remind him that he can be an impact offensive player even when his shot isn't falling.
K.O. Back in the Building - While he won't be on the opposing bench, it will still be interesting to see former USC head coach Kevin O'Neill back in the building. He'll be the color analyst for the Pac-12 Los Angeles broadcast. Always a colorful speaker, O'Neill seems to have really found a home as an analyst. He's thoughtful and entertaining because he isn't afraid to say anything. We're sure he'll have some things to say about Julian Jacobs, Nikola Jovanovic and Strahinja Gavrilovic, who are the only three players remaining that O'Neill recruited.
Know Thy Enemy - Southern Illinois-Edwardsville is not the Southern Illinois Salukis that you may remember making the NCAA tournament consistently throughout the 2000s. Instead, the SIUE Cougars have never been in the NCAA tournament. They have only been a fully certified Division I program for three years. Since joining the Ohio Valley Conference in 2010 after two years as an Independent after their inital move to Division I, the Cougars have been a regular near the bottom of the standings.
This year hasn't been much different. SIUE is 3-7. But the Cougars have won their last two games. Burak Eslik, originally from Turkey, leads the way, averaging 13.6 points. South African big man Grant Fiorentinos comes off the bench to provide offense for the second unit. He is scoring 11.7 points per game.
Transfer Town - The Cougars sport an inexperienced roster in head coach Jon Harris' first season. Six players return from last season's 12-16 record, but all five starters departed. To try to expedite the process of turning around the program, Harris went and nabbed a number of veteran players from various schools around the country. He has just one freshman on the roster and just four players that haven't transferred in from somewhere else.
While there are a number of junior college transfers, there are also a handful of guys from mid-major and high-major programs. Fiorentinos began his college career at Tulane. Yemi Makanjuola started at Tennessee before transferring to UNC-Wilmington and now SIUE. And Josh White, who will not be eligible until next week, initially went to South Dakota State.
Last Matchup: First ever meeting.
Where to Watch:
Game Time, TV channel: 8:00 p.m. PST, Pac-12 Network - Los Angeles (Chris Lewin, Kevin O'Neill)
Radio: ESPN Radio 710 (Chris Fisher, Jordan Moore)
Projected Starting Lineups:
G - C.J. Carr (5-7 sophomore}
G - Burak Eslik (6-4 junior)
G - Carlos Anderson (6-4 freshman)
F - Keenan Simmons (6-6 sophomore)
F - Yemi Makanjuola (6-10 senior)
G - Julian Jacobs (6-4 junior)
G - Jordan McLaughlin (6-1 sophomore)
G - Katin Reinhardt (6-6 junior)
F - Bennie Boatwright (6-10 freshman)
F - Nikola Jovanovic (6-11 junior)