Clearly better than a season ago, Pacific-12 Conference basketball still hasn't made the case that it belongs among the elite.
Progress is obvious: Unbeaten Arizona is ranked No. 3, and UCLA has won five games in a row, including an overtime victory Saturday against then-No. 7 Missouri.
A year after the Pac-12 went 0-11 in nonconference play against Top 25 opponents, the conference is 6-14 vs. ranked teams.
But there also is evidence of lingering vulnerability: Utah lost to Sacramento State, UCLA fell against Cal Poly, Oregon State lost to Towson State, Washington fell against Albany and Cal lost to Harvard.
"Arizona is very good," Cal coach Mike Montgomery said. "UCLA is potentially very good. I think Oregon is legit."
And the Bears, who were picked third in the Pac-12 preseason media poll?
"Until we get healthy," Montgomery said, "we can't say we're with the upper-echelon teams."
Cal (8-4), which opens Pac-12 play at UCLA tonight, was tough enough to peg before losing to Harvard. Guards Allen Crabbe (20.9-point average) and Justin Cobbs (16.4) are the conference's highest-scoring duo, but backcourt injuries are chipping away at the Bears' already limited depth.
Stanford, meanwhile, opens conference play at USC tonight. The Cardinal (9-4) has challenged itself with four games vs. top-50 teams in the Ratings Percentage Index Belmont, Missouri, Minnesota and North Carolina State and lost all four.
Junior forward Dwight Powell is having his best season, averaging 14.5 points and 7.2 rebounds. But guards Chasson Randle and Aaron Bright, both excellent perimeter shooters last season, have combined to make just 23 of 101 from three-point range.
Arizona State 55, Utah 54 (OT) in Tempe, Ariz. Freshman Jahii Carson sank a three-pointer to send the game into overtime, then made a driving layup with 35 seconds left for the decisive points as the Sun Devils (12-2) won the Pac-12 opener over the Utes (8-5).
No. 1 Duke 67, Davidson 50 in Charlotte, N.C. Ryan Kelly had 18 points as the Blue Devils (13-0) pulled away in the second half to beat the Wildcats (7-6).
The halftime score was 29-29 before Duke opened the second half with a 12-0 run.
No. 4 Louisville 80, Providence 62 in Louisville, Ky. Russ Smith had 23 points, and the Cardinals (13-1) made 15 of 24 shots in the second half to put away the Friars (8-5) in a Big East Conference opener.
"I think our team just played the best team in the country," said Providence coach Ed Cooley, whose team beat Louisville by 31 at home last season.
No. 7 Syracuse 78, Rutgers 53 in Syracuse, N.Y. Passing Bob Knight for second place on the all-time victory list almost seemed like an afterthought for Orange coach Jim Boeheim.
"To me, this game is not about numbers," Boeheim said after his 903rd win. "It's about all the people you meet on the way."
Boeheim trails Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski's 940 victories.
Brandon Triche scored a season-high 25 points in the Big East opener as the Orange (13-1) beat the Scarlet Knights (9-3) for the 13th straight time.
Purdue 68, No. 11 Illinois 61 in West Lafayette, Ind. Terone Johnson's career-high 25 points helped the Boilermakers (7-6) top the Illini (13-2) to open Big Ten Conference play.
Illinois cut a 10-point deficit to two over the final 31/2 minutes. But D.J. Byrd stole the ball and converted a three-point play with 20.1 seconds to go to seal Purdue's eighth consecutive victory over the Illini.
No. 19 San Diego State 72, Cal State Bakersfield 57 in San Diego Jamaal Franklin had 18 points and 12 rebounds, and Chase Tapley (Sacramento High School) scored 14 as the Aztecs (12-2) beat the Roadrunners (6-11).
No. 2 Baylor 74, TCU 35 in Fort Worth, Texas Brittney Griner had 24 points, including a dunk, to lead the Bears (11-1) over the Horned Frogs (7-5) in a Big 12 Conference opener.