USC's daunting task: Top-ranked Tar Heels

All-American Harrison Barnes and No. 1 North Carolina face South Carolina in the Las Vegas Invitational today (10 p.m., ESPN2).

COLUMBIA -- After losing to two teams that won't sniff the national rankings this season, and barely beating a third that might be worse than those first two, South Carolina's basketball team gets the nice little treat tonight of playing the No. 1 team in the country, North Carolina.

"It's an opportunity," said Gamecocks coach Darrin Horn. "It's going to be a great stage. We won't have to worry about our guys getting up for it. That probably goes without saying. It gives us an opportunity to test ourselves and have a chance to do something. We're looking forward to that."

USC lost at Elon last Tuesday, then fell to Tennessee State at home Sunday before rebounding with a 61-57 home win Tuesday over Mississippi Valley State. The Gamecocks trailed by 11 points with 6:36 to go in that game.

The first thing Horn said afterward: "It doesn't appear that this team will be boring for any stretch."

The Gamecocks started two freshmen and two sophomores Tuesday, and nobody outside of Horn's locker room believes his young team can beat the Tar Heels today in Las Vegas.

Regardless of what happens, the Gamecocks are guaranteed two games in Sin City as part of the Las Vegas Invitational. If they shock the Tar Heels, they will play the winner of Southern California and UNLV at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. If they lose to North Carolina, they will play the Southern Cal-UNLV loser at 10:30 p.m. Saturday.

After the Vegas trip, USC hosts Providence on Thursday in the SEC/Big East Challenge and plays at Clemson on Dec. 4 before breaking for final exams. And immediately after the Vegas trip, on Sunday, sophomore point guard Bruce Ellington, last year's leading scorer, is scheduled to rejoin the team after playing wide receiver for USC's football team this fall.