PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: North Carolina battles Miami; Oklahoma travels to West Virginia

(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
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GAME OF THE NIGHTNo. 11 Miami at No. 5 North Carolina, 1:00 p.m.

From Rob Dauster’s Weekend Preview.

Believe it or not, but when North Carolina hosts Miami on Saturday afternoon, the winner will be walking out of the Dean Dome sitting all alone in first place in the ACC standings.

And that’s probably not even the most important thing about this game for either team.

Hear me out.

The Tar Heels are coming off of one of their most disappointing losses since this group kids has been together. They blew a lead at home to a Duke team that was down to essentially five guys thanks to an ankle injury to Matt Jones, combatting UNC’s overwhelming front court with Marshall Plumlee — who had four fouls for the final 14 minutes — and Brandon Ingram — who looks like he could struggle to curl a pipe cleaner. It was their third loss in last five games, and with road trips left against Virginia and Duke, this may be their last chance at landing an elite win this season.

Miami, on the other hand, has been playing some great basketball. They’ve won eight of their last nine games, with wins over Duke and Notre Dame in the process, but the rest of their league schedule is brutal. At UNC, home for Virginia and Louisville before a road trip to South Bend. Getting their momentum heading in the right direction for this one is big, but it’s also worth mentioning that few outside of the college hoops media and the good folks of Coral Gables probably realize just how good this Miami team is. They’re good enough to win the league title, they matchup well with a UNC team that struggles to guard ball-screens and they’ll have a chance to prove it in a game that will be featured nationally on CBS.

This is a bit of a statement game for Miami.

And I think they’ll get it done.

THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: No. 3 Oklahoma at No. 10 West Virginia, 4:00 p.m.

Hopefully, the rematch will be as entertaining as the original. When these two teams last squared off, West Virginia was just five days removed from picking off then-No. 1 Kansas in Morgantown, and they followed that up by going into Norman and losing to the then-No. 2 Sooners on a last-second tip-in from Khadeem Lattin. Oklahoma is reeling. They’ve lost three of their last four games and have fallen two games off Kansas’ pace atop the Big 12. WVU sits a game behind the Jayhawks, meaning that a win will at least give them hope that they can earn a share of the league title. The good news for Oklahoma? Jaysean Paige and Jevon Carter, West Virginia’s two most dangerous perimeter scorers, are both banged up.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET?: No. 2 Kansas at Kansas State, 6:00 p.m.

This is as heated of a rivalry as you’re going to find in the Big 12, and while Kansas State has not exactly been great this season, they have been a thorn in the side for some of the nation’s better teams. They beat Oklahoma. They’ve taken both West Virginia and Baylor to double-overtime. They’re better and tougher than their record would indicate, and nothing would take the sting off of an ugly season quite like a win over their in-state rivals.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1. I can’t be the only one that’s fired up that the Purdue-Indiana rivalry is relevant again. On Saturday night at 8:30 p.m., the No. 17 Boilermakers will make the trip to Bloomington to take on the No. 22 Hoosiers in a game with more significance than you probably realize in the Big Ten race. Indiana is currently tied with Iowa — whomay or may not be on the precipice of their typical late-season swan dive — for first place in the conference, sitting a game in front of Maryland — who lost their second straight game last night to … Minnesota (gross). The idea of Indiana winning a Big Ten regular season title isn’t as insane as we thought it was as recently as a month ago, and I’m sure there’s nothing that would make Purdue happier than doing everything in their power to make sure that doesn’t happen. Let’s get it!

2. A month ago, we probably would have written a blurb about No. 14 Kentucky’s trip to Texas A&M with the spin that it was a chance for Kentucky to prove they’re still relevant to the SEC race. Fast forward to today and Jamal Murray looks like Steph Curry while Tyler Ulis is playing like the best point guard in the country, meaning Kentucky’s Final Four dreams are very much alive. The Aggies? They snapped a four-game losing streak with a win over Ole Miss during the week, meaning the 6:30 p.m. tip is their last opportunity to keep their SEC regular season title dreams alive.

3. What Duke has done the last ten days should not be overlooked by anyone. Playing with a six-man rotation — that may be five again on Saturday, depending on Matt Jones’ ankle — the Blue Devils have reeled off three straight wins over ACC contender, beating Virginia and Louisville at home before Wednesday’s win in the Dean Dome. On Saturday at noon, No. 20 Duke will look to make it four straight over ranked teams at No. 18 Louisville. Can they win another when they’re so short-handed? I think the obvious answer is no, just like the obvious answer was that they couldn’t win in the Dean Dome on Wednesday.

4. The last time that No. 8 Xavier and Georgetown got together, the Hoyas managed to find a way to dissect the Musketeer 1-3-1 zone while picking up a win over a then-top five team on the road. That win also happened to be the last time that Georgetown was seriously discussed as a bubble team. So while there is a revenge factor in Xavier’s return trip to D.C., it’s going to be more interesting to see if head coach Chris Mack has found a way to solve his issues with stopping the Hoya attack that day.

5. There is an Atlantic 10 game that will be featured on NBCSN on Saturday: St. Bonaventure at No. 15 Dayton (12:00 p.m.). The Flyers are coming off of a road loss to Saint Joseph’s and they’re tied in the Atlantic 10 standings, in the loss column, with VCU and the Hawks now. St. Bonaventure is 17-7 and 9-4 in the league.

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

OTHER TOP 25 GAMES

  • Butler at No. 1 Villanova, 2:30 p.m.
  • TCU at No. 13 Iowa State, 7:30 p.m.
  • Oregon State at No. 16 Oregon, 10:00 p.m.
  • No. 19 Notre Dame at Georgia Tech, 8:00 p.m.
  • No. 25 Baylor at No. 24 Texas, 2:00 p.m.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES

  • Memphis at South Florida, 11:00 a.m.
  • Florida at South Carolina, 12:00 p.m.
  • Georgia at Vanderbilt, 12:00 p.m.
  • Penn State at Rutgers, 1:00 p.m.
  • Pitt at Syracuse, 2:00 p.m.
  • Marquette at DePaul, 2:00 p.m.
  • Saint Joseph’s at Davidson, 2:00 p.m.
  • Mississippi State at Alabama, 2:30 p.m.
  • Florida State at Virginia Tech, 3:00 p.m.
  • Clemson at N.C. State, 3:00 p.m.
  • UConn at Cincinnati, 4:00 p.m.
  • Ole Miss at Auburn, 5:00 p.m.
  • LSU at Tennessee, 5:30 p.m.
  • Ohio State at Nebraska, 7:00 p.m.
  • Missouri at Arkansas, 7:30 p.m.
  • Stanford at Washington, 8:00 p.m.
  • Texas Tech at Oklahoma State, 9:30 p.m.
  • Saint Mary’s at Gonzaga, 10:00 p.m.
  • Colorado at UCLA, 11:00 p.m.