Men’s basketball preview: A major mid-major match-up

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One of the biggest games for Ohio in the non conference season will take place tonight in Cedar Rapids, Iowa when the Bobcats take on the Panthers of the University of Northern Iowa.

However you look at it, tonight's game is a contest between two of the top mid-major teams in the country. Ohio (9-1) ranks 12th in this week's Mid-Major Top 25; Northern Iowa (10-1) is 10th in the same poll. The Panthers are not just a quality mid-major team, their play has been recognized nationally. UNI's RPI was third best in the country as of Monday, which puts them ahead of big-name schools like Ohio State and Louisville. The Panthers' strength of schedule was also ranked 16th.  By comparison, Ohio's RPI was 17th, with a strength of schedule ranked 96th best.

On the floor, the Panthers are led by the high-low combination of guard Anthony James (13.9 ppg) and forward Jake Koch (11.5 ppg). UNI averages a shade under 70 points per game, Ohio has scored nearly four points more per game in its 10 contests.

Coach John Groce has liked his teams toughness in 2011. Groce has said he wants his guys to be "road warriors," tonight's game will firmly test that nickname. The Panthers are an unblemished 6-0 at home this season and were 13-5 in the McLeod Center last year. UNI has a rowdy home crowd, so tonight's game should be another road test for the 'Cats. Ohio's only loss came at Louisville on Nov. 25. The Bobcats led in that game with four minutes to go, but were unable to close the door on the Cardinals. Since that loss, Ohio has won four straight games away from the Convocation Center including a win at Oakland's O-rena, avenue in which the Grizzlies had won 41 of their last 43 games.

Ohio received three votes in yesterday's AP Poll, Northern Iowa nabbed seven votes. A win on the road against the Panthers would most likely give Ohio even more votes, and possibly give the 'Cats enough to crack the top 25.

Tip off between Ohio and Northern Iowa is set for 7 p.m. central time, that's 8 p.m. here in the eastern time zone.