Amid all the upheaval in the sports world caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, college basketball has come out relatively unscathed. While Pac-12 teams will be playing a 20-game schedule –– down from their usual 30 or so –– the season will proceed as normal from winter to early spring.

The shortened schedule also means the conference slate will be shortened from 18 to 12 games. The strength of division opponents will matter less since games will be split evenly between in-division and out-of-division teams. In addition to the Pac-12 slate, a non-conference schedule is in the works and will be added soon, according to the USC men’s basketball Twitter account. USC moved five of its original games to later dates to accommodate for non-league scheduling. 

In Thursday’s USC basketball schedule release, four games are set in stone, while eight others will be confirmed at a later date. Confirmed games include the season opener at home against Stanford on Dec. 13 and the usual rivalry game against UCLA to finish the campaign at Pauley Pavilion. A home matchup against UCLA has also been set for the week of Feb. 3, along with an early season away game at Oregon State on Dec. 20.

A condensed schedule makes each game much more important, but the Trojans will especially need to capitalize on a softer start to the conference season. Games against Oregon State and potentially Cal, widely regarded as the two worst teams in the Pac-12, are must-wins. A good start will put USC in a better position to survive a gauntlet of a closing stretch, which includes the two rivalry games, a matchup against one of the Arizona teams and a road game at Utah or Colorado.

Remember the overtime thriller against Stanford last season? USC will look to rekindle the same magic to start this season against a Cardinal team that nabbed top-10 recruit and USC target Ziaire Williams. While it lost guard Tyrell Terry to the NBA, Stanford will still field a talented squad led by Williams and senior forward Oscar Da Silva.

UCLA and Arizona are mainstays atop the Pac-12 South standings year after year, but Arizona State will be a legit challenger this season. Standout guard Remy Martin will return for his senior year, joining two talented freshman recruits Josh Christopher and Marcus Bagley. The Trojans will face the Sun Devils in either early January or mid-February.

After a rocky start to last season behind new coach Mick Cronin, UCLA finished second in the Pac-12. With no notable losses to the team and a talented sophomore transfer from Kentucky in Johnny Juzang, the Bruins will look to use the continuity and momentum of last season to their advantage. They may be the early favorites to win the conference, and USC fans can look forward to more close games against their rival.

USC goes into this season with two returning starters –– guard Ethan Anderson and forward Isaiah Mobley –– and a potpourri of freshman recruits and transfers headlined by Evan Mobley, one of the nation’s best prospects. On paper, UCLA and Arizona State are the favorites to win the division because of their talent and continuity. However, this shortened season will make outcomes much more unpredictable, giving USC a solid chance to claim the Pac-12 title.