Since the Big Ten’s shocking addition of USC and UCLA, the conversation has primarily focused on what it will mean to the conference from a revenue perspective.

There’s also been talk of what it will do to enhance the B1G’s football product. As far as current membership is concerned, only Michigan and Ohio State have legacies comparable to USC’s. And UCLA … well, that Cade McNown sure was something!

Not as much focus has revolved around what the addition of the Trojans and Bruins will do for the B1G from a basketball perspective — which is plenty understandable. Media rights and football are what make the money-go-round spin. And college basketball’s future is murky given that college football’s power players have discussed forming a structure separate from the NCAA no later than the 2030s.

But that’s not a concern in the short term. The pickup of USC and UCLA is likely to greatly improve the B1G’s chances of winning its first NCAA Tournament since Michigan State in 2000. And it’s not just due to the law of averages.

Both programs ready to compete immediately

The Bruins and Trojans both reached the Sweet 16 in 2021, doubling the Big Ten’s entire output. Michigan was the only B1G team to make it that far 2 seasons ago, and the Wolverines were bounced by UCLA in the Elite Eight. (The Bruins, who also beat Michigan State in the First Four, lost in overtime to Gonzaga in the Final Four.)

UCLA made it back to the Sweet 16 in 2022, though USC was bounced in the opening round.

UCLA obviously has the more storied hoops history with 11 national championship banners hanging at Pauley Pavilion. But not all of that history is ancient. The Bruins have reached the Sweet 16 5 times since 2014. Michigan is the only B1G team that can top that with 6 appearances in the same timeframe.

USC, it seems, finally has the right man at the helm in Andy Enfield. Though it took a minute for the former Florida Gulf Coast coach to get things cooking, the Trojans are coming off back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances and would have been an at-large in the canceled 2020 Tourney. It’s fair to say he has the program at a solid No. 4 in the Pac-12 behind Arizona, Oregon and UCLA.

This immediate competitiveness provides a dramatic contrast to 3 of the 4 programs the B1G has added from its original 10-team form.

Penn State has just 3 NCAA Tournament appearances since joining the conference in 1992. Nebraska exists for everyone else to beat. Steve Pikiell is turning Rutgers into a respectable outfit, but the Scarlet Knights won 9 total conference games in their first 4 B1G seasons.

Only Maryland was able to compete at a high level right from the get-go, finishing 2nd in its maiden Big Ten season in 2014-15. Surprisingly, that success hasn’t been sustainable. Who knows what would have happened in 2020, when the Terps finished No. 12 in the country. But they haven’t reached the Sweet 16 since 2016 and have a new coach as a result.

So even though basketball plays little role in conference realignment decision-making, there’s no question the B1G is beefing up its basketball profile.

But it’s not USC and UCLA that Big Ten coaches are excited to see. It’s the recruits playing in their backyards who have the potential to lift the league as a whole.

SoCal is a fertile recruiting ground

Over the past 10 recruiting classes, an average of 4.5 Southern California high schoolers have ranked among the top 50 nationally. But that average is on the upswing.

In the Class of 2023 alone, there are a whopping 10 SoCal recruits in the 247 Sports composite top 50. For those who skipped fractions, that’s 20% of the entire country’s top-tier recruits. There are 6 top-50 players in the early Class of 2024 rankings.

The lone blip on the decade-long radar was 2021, with just 1 top-50 recruit. That’s likely due in no small part to the fact California high schools didn’t have a basketball season because of COVID restrictions.

To some extent, geography doesn’t matter as much in basketball recruiting as it does in football.

Football coaches get a limited number of chances to show up to a Friday night game and stay within their natural footprint unless it’s a bye week. Top basketball recruits play in AAU tournaments and showcases that take them in front of any college coach. So it’s not as if pulling in SoCal recruits was previously an impossible feat.

But current Big Ten basketball coaches will have the chance to sweeten the pot a little. Maybe there’s time to duck in to a recruit’s Friday night game the day before playing at UCLA or USC. And they can guarantee every L.A. kid the chance to play in front of family if they do decide to leave home.

Maybe only 1 or 2 of these prospects depart California for the Midwest in a given year. But any of them who do — or for that matter, any who stay home — could prove a difference-maker in ending the Big Ten’s title drought.