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CEDAR FALLS | The hay is in the barn.

The only thing left to do is form arguments about whether this weekend features the biggest basketball game to ever take place in Cedar Falls. Saturday is when No. 12 Wichita State will clash with the 18th-ranked University of Northern Iowa men's basketball team at the McLeod Center.

And now nobody has to pretend the game that has been close to a sell out ever since it was put on the schedule isn't lingering on everybody's mind.

The "one game at a time" attitude has been important for the Panthers -- tough road games at Illinois State and Southern Illinois this week were essential hurdles to clear to make Saturday that much more meaningful. But game preparation is one thing, and understanding what it means for the future is another.

"I wouldn't say it's any different from any other game, but it's hard not to get excited about it," said Seth Tuttle after Wednesday's win at Southern Illinois.

"It's hard not to think about it. Obviously, it's another ranked team and this one is on our place. It's been sold out for a month, month and a half now. It'll be a great atmosphere, great opportunity for us to get back tied for first in the conference and protect our home court."

With a listed capacity of 6,650 at the McLeod Center, UNI officials are expecting over 7,000 fans to pack in. To illustrate the importance, here's what they'll see:

-- At No. 18, UNI has never been ranked higher in the AP Top 25.

-- As a ranked team, UNI has never played another ranked team.

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-- It is the first Missouri Valley Conference game since 1982 that features two ranked teams.

-- With both teams at 19-2, it's the best start for two MVC teams since 1959-60.

-- The Panthers are riding a 14-game winning streak at home while Wichita State has won its last 30 games against MVC opponents.

But enough about history. A 40-minute game that will be pivotal in the process of crowning a conference champion a month from now is at the center of it all. The Panthers have a chance to knock the Shockers off their perch atop the league and loosen the stranglehold they've clamped since Creighton departed in 2013.

If defense wins championships, well, both squads might have a stake to the claim.

By allowing just 54.7 points per game, UNI ranks fifth in the country. Wichita State is eighth at 55.9. Through nine MVC games, the defenses are deadlocked -- both have given up 452 points, a 50.2 average.

One of the teams will have to figure how to score. For the Panthers, they'll just try to treat it like any other game.

"We're going to prepare like we always have," said senior Nate Buss. "We're going to stay focused in practice like we do every day."

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