The Big Ten/ACC Challenge will dominate the news cycle in the sport tonight, but there are other significant games that must not be ignored.
Washington State at Gonzaga: The Cougars won the Great Alaska Shootout and were led by Klay Thompson's 43 points in the win over San Diego. Gonzaga, UCLA and others passed on Thompson and it turned out to be a mistake. The Zags are coming off a Maui Invitational win over Cincinnati. The Cougars could be the sleeper team in the Pac-10 if this keeps up. I've been to this game before, and it's an intense rivalry between two schools separated by 70 miles of rolling hills.
Butler at Ball State: I know it doesn't sound too tough, but the Bulldogs are coming off two losses at the 76 Classic in Anaheim. Going to a MAC gym isn't exactly an easy task for anyone, especially with the Bulldogs desperately needing a win. This will be a big deal for Ball State, but Butler needs this game to stop the bleeding. Butler didn't have a bad loss at the tournament in Anaheim. But this would qualify as a bad loss.
Siena at Georgia Tech: The Saints desperately need to win this game if they have any chance at an at-large berth. Siena hasn't won a quality nonconference game yet. The Yellow Jackets are hardly the type of team that will gladly bow down. Siena will have to earn this win down to the final seconds if it wants to pull off the upset. The Yellow Jackets' interior may be too tough for the Saints, though.
UNLV at Arizona: The Runnin' Rebels are fresh off a win over Louisville at home. I had a number of coaches tell me that the UNLV newcomers, notably the freshmen, are much better than projected. Arizona didn't fare all that well in Maui, but the squad is still trying to find itself with so many new parts and a new staff. This would be a huge win for the Wildcats as they seek to be relevant throughout the season.
Cal at New Mexico: I wrote about this game in my Daily Word but I can't emphasize enough how critical this is to the Lobos. If UNM can pull off the upset over Cal, it would signify to the rest of the MWC that the Lobos are a real player for the league title. Cal could use a true road win to improve its national standing. This will be one of the toughest road games it plays all season.
Dayton at Miami (Ohio): The RedHawks nearly beat Kentucky. Dayton took out Georgia Tech. This is a dangerous road game for the Flyers. It should be counted as a quality win because of how hard it has been to win in Oxford, Ohio.
Old Dominion at Richmond: ODU was the preseason favorite to win the Colonial, but the Monarchs didn't pick up a high-profile win over Missouri or Mississippi State in South Padre Island, Texas. Richmond was the sleeper pick in the Atlantic 10 and has won four straight after losing to what now looks like a solid William & Mary team. This is one of those rivalry games that gets no national pub.
Western Kentucky at South Carolina: The Hilltoppers could use a win like this to improve their stock. South Carolina should count this as a quality win if it can land it. This is a tough game for Darrin Horn, who used to coach at Western Kentucky.
Oklahoma State at Tulsa: James Anderson is on display for Oklahoma State in a rivalry game that gets no national pub. Tulsa has Jerome Jordan in the post as its stud. This should count as a quality win for whoever can land the W.
Ole Miss at Arkansas State: Yet another dangerous road game for a "power six" team with NCAA aspirations. ASU coach John Brady is always crafty and the Rebels won't get out of Arkansas State easily.
Arkansas at Oklahoma: Willie Warren is back for Oklahoma. Arkansas is reeling. But the Sooners need to play a good, sound game after the debacle in the Great Alaska Shootout. The Razorbacks haven't proven they can be consistent.
Rice at Harvard: Any time an Ivy League team can get a home game against a Conference USA squad, it is significant. And hey, Rice is known as the "Harvard of the South." This game is a natural.
BYU at Utah State: The Cougars are the favorites in the Mountain West. The Aggies are the top pick in the WAC. The two schools are bitter rivals. This should be good.
San Diego State at San Diego: The Toreros have better wins so far this season than the Aztecs. Beating San Diego State will only enhance the profile of the WCC. San Diego State needs something positive before it gets into the MWC, and losing to the nearby rival wouldn't help.
Portland State at Portland: This is the type of game the Pilots must win -- you can't lose to Portland State after knocking off UCLA and Minnesota and getting ranked in the AP Poll. There will be a lot of eyes on this one.
Missouri at Vanderbilt: The Commodores were just OK in Maui, but are still an NCAA-potential team and could contend for a top three finish in the SEC East. Mizzou is a difficult out no matter where the game is played. This will be a extremely tough game for the Commodores.
Utah at Weber State: The Utes shocked Illinois in Las Vegas but now come back to reality with a tough, in-state rivalry game. Winning this game would say a lot about the Utes' improvement.
Northern Iowa at Iowa State: Huge game in the state for both squads. UNI beat BC in the Paradise Jam while Iowa State is projected to be a top six Big 12 school. The Cyclones are in the midst of a major three-game lineup. After this game, theygo to Cal and then host in-state rival Iowa.