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Kentucky’s non-conference schedule is once again loaded

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Nobody in college basketball is better at putting together a non-conference schedule that Kentucky head coach John Calipari.

In a sport where it’s no uncommon to see top 25 programs avoid playing a relevant opponent until conference play has started, Kentucky has been one of the standard-bearers when it comes to building a schedule in November and December.

With the announcements today that the Wildcats will be playing games against Texas and UCLA this season, you need to take a look at who the Wildcats will be playing during the first two months of the regular season:

  • Kentucky vs. Kansas in Indianapolis for the Champions Classic
  • Kentucky vs. UCLA in Chicago for the CBS Sports Classic
  • Texas at Kentucky in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge
  • Louisville at Kentucky
  • North Carolina at Kentucky
  • Providence at Kentucky

Kansas is the No. 5 team in the country in the NBCSports.com Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25. North Carolina? They’re No. 6. Texas is No. 8 and Louisville is No. 11.

That’s wild, and it will only get tougher if Kris Dunn plays up to his potential for Providence this season or UCLA is able to get the kind of performance from the likes of Kevin Looney, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton are good enough to carry the team.

Kentucky is the preseason No. 1 team in the country. They are the unquestionably going to be the title favorite entering the season, and it will not take us long to get a feel for whether or not that opinion is accurate.

A strong schedule can also be a double-edged sword. Last season, for example, Kansas had one of the toughest schedules in the history of the game, so while they were tested by the time that Big 12 play came around, it may have also cost them. The Jayhawks never had the chance to learn or build confidence against their weaker opponents.

The good news for Kentucky?

This will be their most experienced team under John Calipari, as they may not end up starting a single freshman.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: A huge Saturday of hoops

Maryland players, including Jaylen Brantley (1) and Varun Ram (21), cheer after Jake Layman (10) scored against Nebraska during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Lincoln, Neb., Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016. Nebraska's Shavon Shields (31) and Benny Parker react. Maryland won 70-65. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 18 Purdue at No. 4 Maryland, 4:00 p.m.

From Rob Dauster’s Weekend Preview.

We’re going to be getting an interesting contrast of styles in College Park on Saturday afternoon, as the Boilermakers — with arguably the biggest front line in college basketball and one of the best defenses in the sport — take on a Maryland team that likes to spread the floor and relies on the ability of their two talented guards to make plays. The issue for Purdue all season long has been their back court play. Will Johnny Hill and P.J. Thompson make enough plays? Can they get the ball to A.J. Hammons, Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan in a position where those big bodies can be effective?

Hammons is going to be the key here. Diamond Stone has had an up-and-down season. There are nights he looks like a top five pick and games where he seems to be completely overmatched. Hammons is a first-team all-Big Ten performer and a guy with an outside shot of making an all-american team that is playing his best basketball of the season right now. So while Melo Trimble and Rasheed Sulaimon — along with Robert Carter — get the headlines, the matchup with Stone and Hammons may be the most important of the game and the one that brings out the NBA scouts en masse.

THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: No. 3 Villanova at No. 11 Providence, 2:30 p.m.

This game was far more intriguing before Providence forward and Big East leading scorer Ben Bentil injured his ankle in Wednesday’s loss to DePaul. Why was it intriguing? Because Villanova is all alone in first place in the Big East, and if the Friars have any prayer of catching the Wildcats, this is a must-win game. It’s also a rematch of a game from earlier this season, when Providence overcame the two feet of snow Snowzilla dumped on Philly to beat Villanova in overtime. Then throw in the fact that the Friars are looking to right their ship after losing to DePaul (!!!) this week, and there were all kinds of intriguing story lines heading in.

And then Bentil had to go and sprain his ankle.

AND DON’T FORGET THIS ONE: No. 15 Baylor at No. 14 West Virginia, 8:00 p.m.

The Big 12 race is not for the faint of heart this season, but both the Bears and the Mountaineers currently find themselves in the thick of the race. After knocking off Iowa State in Ames this week, West Virginia has climbed into a tie for first place with Oklahoma while Baylor is sitting a game out in a tie for third. Jonathan Holton is not expected back for this one, which should give Baylor an advantage on the interior. The key here: How will Lester Medford deal with the WVU pressure?

WHO’S GETTING UPSET?: No. 2 North Carolina at Notre Dame, 7:00 p.m.

From Rob Dauster’s Weekend Preview:

Does anyone know what’s wrong with Marcus Paige? Over the course of his last six games, the former all-american is shooting just 21.3 percent from the floor and 14.3 percent from beyond the arc. That’s atrocious, particularly when you consider just how good Paige has been at times during his career. The other problem for the Tar Heels? Joel Berry II isn’t playing his best basketball right now, either, and Justin Jackson was in the midst of a slump of his own until Monday’s loss at Louisville. Notre Dame isn’t quite as good as we thought they would be this season, but the Fighting Irish are still a tournament team with one of the best point guards in the country in Demetrius Jackson. The key for them is getting stops, but if they do, they’re potent offensively.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1. Pitt has a big, big game this weekend as they host No. 9 Virginia at 12:00 p.m. We’re still in a position where we don’t really know all that much about the Panthers. Just how good is this team? The only ranked team they’ve played is Louisville (they scored 41 points and lost by 18) and the only quality wins on their profile came against Notre Dame and Syracuse. The could use a home win against a top ten team that has been inconsistent on the road this season.

2. No. 10 Michigan State seemed to find their stride last week, as Denzel Valentine returned to his Player of the Year caliber form while Bryn Forbes and Matt Costello have been playing some of their best basketball of the season. The Spartans will pay a visit to rival Michigan at 2:00 p.m., and while the Wolverines have picked off Maryland in Ann Arbor without Caris LeVert, they’re coming off of a blowout loss in the same building to Indiana.

3. Florida visits No. 20 Kentucky at 4:00 p.m. and I can’t help but feel like we’re going to learn quite a bit about both teams in this game. Kentucky followed up their terrific performance at Kansas by … blowing a 21 point lead at Tennessee and losing. The Gators? They’re streaking right now, having landed a blowout win over West Virginia last weekend. Going into Rupp and winning is a different beast, however.

4. No. 23 Arizona is in a bit of an interesting position right now, as they don’t have much in the way of quality wins on their NCAA tournament profile right now. They’re also two games off the pace in the Pac-12 regular season standings and are still playing without Allonzo Trier. Washington, on the other hand, has been one of the nation’s most entertaining teams. The two will square off on Saturday at 4:30 p.m.

5. There are two games that will be featured on NBCSN on Saturday: Davidson at Duquesne (12:30 p.m.), Delaware at William & Mary (2:30 p.m.).

CLICK HERE to watch these games on NBC Sports Live Extra Saturday afternoon.

OTHER TOP 25 GAMES

  • No. 1 Oklahoma at Kansas State, 6:00 p.m.
  • Marquette at No. 6 Xavier, 12:00 p.m.
  • No. 7 Kansas at TCU, 12:00 p.m.
  • No. 25 South Carolina at No. 8 Texas A&M, 4:00 p.m.
  • No. 13 Iowa State at Oklahoma State, 2:00 p.m.
  • Boston College at No. 19 Louisville, 12:00 p.m.
  • No. 21 Wichita State at Illinois State, 10:00 p.m.
  • No. 22 Indiana at Penn State, 8:00 p.m.
  • No. 24 Dayton at George Mason, 6:00 p.m.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES

  • Florida State at Wake Forest, 12:00 p.m.
  • Temple at UCF, 12:00 p.m.
  • George Washington at VCU, 12:00 p.m.
  • Cincinnati at Memphis, 12:00 p.m.
  • Texas Tech at Texas, 2:00 p.m.
  • Rutgers at Nebraska, 2:00 p.m.
  • N.C. State at Duke, 2:00 p.m.
  • DePaul at Creighton, 2:00 p.m.
  • Missouri at Alabama, 3:00 p.m.
  • New Mexico at San Diego State, 4:00 p.m.
  • Clemson at Virginia Tech, 4:00 p.m.
  • Stanford at Cal, 4:00 p.m.
  • Butler at St. John’s, 4:30 p.m.
  • Auburn at Georgia, 5:30 p.m.
  • Mississippi State at LSU, 6:00 p.m.
  • Tennessee at Arkansas, 8:00 p.m.
  • Vanderbilt at Ole Miss, 8:00 p.m.
  • Georgetown at Seton Hall, 9:00 p.m.

No. 13 Iowa State suspends Jameel McKay indefinitely

Iowa State forward Georges Niang, forward Jameel McKay, forward Abdel Nader and guard Deonte Burton celebrate after center Stuart Nezlek scored late in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Coppin State, Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015, in Ames, Iowa. Iowa State won 104-84 (AP Photo/Justin Hayworth)
AP Photo/Justin Hayworth
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Already lacking depth, No. 13 Iowa State will be short a key contributor Saturday when they take on Oklahoma State in Stillwater.

Friday night it was announced that senior forward Jameel McKay has been suspended indefinitely by head coach Steve Prohm and did not make the trip with the team. McKay, who’s been dealing with knee issues recently, is averaging 12.4 points and a team-high 9.0 rebounds per game on the season.

Over the last six games he’s averaging 7.7 points and 8.7 rebounds per contest, shooting 60.6 percent from the field.

McKay has been asked to man the middle for a team lacking in both size and depth, with Georges Niang shifting over to the five when McKay needs a break for either rest or foul trouble reasons. Without McKay even more responsibility falls upon the shoulders of Niang, Abdel Nader and Deonte Burton in the front court.

The Cyclones are looking to end a two-game losing streak, and even with Oklahoma State’s struggles accomplishing that gets tougher with McKay out of the lineup.

News of McKay’s suspension was first reported by the Ames Tribune.