A look at the six most notable games on Friday's schedule:
Arizona State at Stanford
The Pac-10 season officially opens up tonight with eight teams in action, headlined by this match-up of the 14th-ranked Sun Devils and the unbeaten but untested Cardinal. ASU hasn't won in Maples Pavilion since since 2005, but they didn't have the '08-'09 version of James Harden in those games. Harden is the only first-team All-American that most people wouldn't recognize if he was standing right next to them; he'll begin to put an end to that tonight by helping the Sun Devils give Stanford their first L.
Arizona at California
The Wildcats and Bears have been two of the nicest surprises in the Pac-10 this season, so it's only appropriate they open up conference play against each other. Arizona wasn't the same team Monday night without Jordan Hill (lower leg) in the lineup, but he's expected to be back and ready to go for this one. That's huge news for Arizona as they prep for a Cal team that doesn't have a very strong front line. As long as Hill plays like his normal self, and Arizona gets a big game out of one of its guards, it should be able to pull off a narrow W.
USC at Oregon
The Trojans have fallen from a six seed in our Preseason Field of 65 to the Last Four Out list (barely) in our most recent bracket. Some of that underacheiving can be attributed to the growing pains experienced by stud frosh DeMar DeRozan, but over the last two weeks, those pains appear to be over. DeRozan has averaged almost 18 points and six rebounds per game over his last three, and he's playing his best ball of the season as USC opens its Pac-10 season on the road against the young and overmatched Ducks, who have struggled mightily through a brutal OOC schedule.
UCLA at Oregon State
We're not saying the Bruins aren't good, but do they really still deserve a Top 10 ranking? Their best win of the season is against Miami (OH) and they lost their only true road game (at Texas). They open up Pac-10 play tonight at Oregon State, and then play two more road games (at Oregon and at USC) in the coming weeks. That trio of games should go a long way in showing if the Bruins are in fact the best team in the Pac-10 after all, or if they are just "near the top" of a league that isn't exactly scaring people.
South Carolina at Baylor
Curtis Jerrells had his quietest night of the season last time out against Jackson State, scoring just seven points in 24 minutes in Baylor's blowout win. The Bears didn't need him to do much to win that game; they will need him to play like his explosive self against Gamecocks guard Devan Downey. Downey is South Carolina's best player (he had 37 points and five steals in a loss to Clemson on Tuesday), and getting a huge game out of him is probably the only way the Gamecocks can hang with Baylor.
Syracuse at South Florida
Eric Devendorf smacked around Seton Hall in his return to the Syracuse lineup Tuesday night, scoring 20 points off the bench in a 24-point Orange victory. Now 'Cuse continues its friendly conference schedule tonight against the Bulls, who are the only team in the league with a losing record. Road games in the Big East are never easy (see: Pitt's near loss at Rutgers the other night), but road games at South Florida are the exception. Expect 'Cuse to roll.
Also receiving votes: Appalachian State at Texas, North Dakota State at Oakland