PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Loaded Saturday of conference action

Associated Press
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GAME OF THE NIGHTNo. 11 Iowa State at No. 8 Oklahoma, 7:00 p.m.

From Rob Dauster’s Weekend Preview.

Oklahoma is currently one of just three teams in college basketball with an unblemished record now that Michigan State and Xavier have both taken a loss in their conference openers. The Sooners, who kick off Big 12 play on Saturday, will be tested in their opener as well, as they host an Iowa State team that is coming off of a win at Cincinnati last week that helped legitimize a team whose record has looked better than their on-court product at times this season.

And that’s where this matchup gets really interesting.

Iowa State is probably the most proven of the two programs, but this year’s iteration of the Cyclones is a team that few fully trust. It’s not for a lack of talent — we had Georges Niang ranked fifth in our Player of the Year Power Rankings, and Monte’ Morris and Jameel McKay are likely all-Big 12 players — but they don’t have any front court depth and have major question marks defensively. It’s not like Oklahoma is a safe-bet for the Final Four, either, as they are still trying to find a way to replace TaShawn Thomas at the four and have ridden the white-hot shooting of Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard to a perfect record.

It will be a safe bet, however, that if the Sooners find a way to beat the Cyclones, they’ll end up being the No. 1 team in the country come Monday. If that happens, and if Kansas beats Baylor at home on Saturday, there’s a very real chance that undefeated, No. 1 Oklahoma plays at No. 2 Kansas on Monday night.

I think we all know what we need to root for.

THIS ONE’S GOOD TOONo. 9 Butler vs. No. 6 Xavier, 1:00 p.m.

This matchup lost a bit of its luster after Thursday. Butler lost at home to No. 12 Providence and The Kris Dunn Show just hours after the Musketeers went to No. 16 Villanova and gotblown out by 31 points in a game that their star point guard suffered a terrifying — but not all that serious — head injury. The latter of those two results is what makes this game difficult to truly get a feel for. Edmond Sumner, the 6-foot-6 redshirt freshman whose exploded onto the NBA’s radar with a string of impressive performances the last month and a half, likely won’t be available. Xavier has quite a bit of depth and versatility this season … at every position except the point. Sumner was their guy.

But what makes the injury doubly-painful is that where Butler’s defense can be broken down is by a dynamic, play-making lead guard. Sumner isn’t Dunn, but they are similar in the way that they play, and the Bulldogs had no answer for Dunn on Thursday. Losing Sumner takes away their biggest advantage in what has become a critical game for both teams. The loser will fall to 0-2 in the Big East, and given that Villanova has lost all of two regular season league games each of the last two seasons, the loser of this game is going to have a very difficult time winning the Big East regular season title.

For the Bulldogs, the thing to watch is going to be Kellen Dunham. The dude is mired in an absolutely horrific slump. To quote Tin Cup, he’s got the shanks. In his last five games, he’s shooting 10-for-60 from the floor and 2-for-32 from three.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1. Oklahoma-Iowa State is not the only relevant Big 12 game this weekend, as No. 23 Baylor pays a visit to No. 2 Kansas at 4:00 p.m. The league title race implications aren’t quite the same in this one, but there will some pressure on the Jayhawks: they have a shot to be ranked No. 1 in the country with a win.

2. Iowa is coming off of an important over the Denzel Valentine-less Michigan State Spartans, which is the kind of win that is going to have staying power on their résumé. But are they truly the kind of team that can beat the No. 1 team in the country by 13 points, or did they take full advantage of a team that was missing their best player? I think we’ll get a sense for that answer when they play at No. 14 Purdue at 6:00 p.m.

3. Speaking of No. 1 Michigan State, the Spartans play at Minnesota on Saturday at 3:00 p.m. which suddenly becomes a key game in the Big Ten title race. A loss drops the Spartans to 0-2 in league play, and while this team is clearly not the same team without Valentine, Minnesota has not been good this season. This is one Sparty absolutely should not lose.

4. Things get intriguing in the SEC tonight as Ole Miss travels to Rupp Arena to face No. 10 Kentucky. The Wildcats have been up-and-down thanks to some inconsistent play from freshmen, but sophomore point guard Tyler Ulis looks healthy and dialed in. The Rebels have enough offense to make this game interesting and if they’re hot, they could definitely escape with a win.

5. Atlantic 10 action ramps up this weekend with a tripleheader on NBCSN. Saint Joseph’s opens the day at Richmond at 12:30, Dayton travels to Duquesne at 2:30 and Saint Louis ends the tilt by heading to Rhode Island. Perhaps the most intriguing matchup of the three is the opener as Saint Joseph’s is off to a very good 10-2 start on the season, but the Spiders are tough at home and slightly favored in this one.

CLICK HERE to watch this game on NBC Sports Live Extra Saturday afternoon.

OTHER TOP 25 GAMES

  • Montana at No. 2 Kansas, 2:00 p.m.
  • Creighton at No. 3 Oklahoma, 2:00 p.m.
  • No. 4 Maryland at Northwestern, 7:00 p.m.
  • Notre Dame at No. 5 Virginia, 5:00 p.m.
  • Georgia Tech at No. 7 North Carolina, 12:00 p.m.
  • St. John’s at No. 12 Providence, 2:30 p.m.
  • Syracuse at No. 13 Miami, 2:30 p.m.
  • No. 15 Duke at Boston College, 3:30 p.m.
  • No. 16 Villanova at Creighton, 9:01 p.m.
  • South Florida at No. 17 SMU, 6:30 p.m.
  • No. 19 West Virginia at Kansas State, 12:00 p.m.
  • Arkansas at No. 20 Texas A&M, 3:30 p.m.
  • Tulsa at No. 22 Cincinnati, 3:00 p.m.
  • Memphis at No. 24 South Carolina, 5:00 p.m.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES

  • DePaul at Seton Hall, 11:00 a.m.
  • Houston at Temple, 12:00 p.m.
  • Penn State at Michigan, 12:00 p.m.
  • Florida State at Clemson, 12:00 p.m.
  • Tennessee at Auburn, 2:00 p.m.
  • Texas at Texas Tech, 2:00 p.m.
  • N.C. State at Virginia Tech, 2:00 p.m.
  • Rutgers at Wisconsin, 2:00 p.m.
  • TCU at Oklahoma State, 4:00 p.m.
  • Indiana at Nebraska, 4:00 p.m.
  • Marquette at Georgetown, 6:30 p.m.
  • UConn at Tulane, 7:30 p.m.
  • Georgia at Florida, 8:00 p.m.
  • Northern Iowa at Southern Illinois, 8:00 p.m.
  • LSU at Vanderbilt, 9:00 p.m.