It is early November and another college basketball season is about to tip off and that means another one thing, ESPN’s Tip-Off Marathon is right around the corner. The college hoop junkie’s equivalent of binge watching Netflix is almost here and the 24+ consecutive hours of hoop in all its glory takes its place as the unofficial kick-off to the season.
With nearly 30 straight hours of basketball there is usually some down time in the wee hours or a game or two that aren’t all that compelling. This year there are a good handful of games that should pique your interest.
As always the marathon culminates in the Champion’s Classic featuring Michigan State vs. Duke as the opening act to Kansas vs. Kentucky.
Michigan State vs. Duke 7pm Champions Classic
For Duke the question is will their backcourt be spearheaded by the incumbents, senior Quinn Cook and junior Rasheed Sulaimon or will freshman Tyus Jones interject himself into the starting line up giving the Blue Devils a young trio of stars? Jones would then join fellow first-year players Jahlil Okafor and Justice Winslow as freshmen in the starting lineup for Coach K. In East Lansing Keith Appling and Adrien Payne may be gone but Brandon Dawson, Travis Trice, Denzel Valentine and Matt Costello return to lead the Spartans’ push toward another Big Ten Title.
Kansas vs. Kentucky 9:30pm Champions Classic
In the night cap the Kansas Jayhawks take on the Kentucky Wildcats. This game is sure to be an underclassmen showcase. The Jayhawks return Wayne Selden, Perry Ellis and Frank Mason but this will be the first big test for freshmen guards Devonte’ Graham and Kelly Oubre as well as physical big man Cliff Alexander. The Wildcats are so loaded, especially in the frontcourt that Coach John Calipari has toyed with the idea of using two 5-man units. Joining juniors Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress are the sophomore Harrison twins Andrew and Aaron who were surprise returnees, spurning the overtures of the NBA. Also returning are sophomore big men Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee. Highly touted freshmen forwards Trey Lyles and Karl-Anthony Towns and guard Tyler Ulis just add to the star-studded logjam in Lexington.
Gonzaga 11pm SMU at Monday
The undercard of the marathon isn’t that bad either. At 11pm SMU takes on Gonzaga in an interesting late-night game. The Mustangs who are a title contender in the American took a blow when big-time recruit point guard Emmanuel Mudiay decided to forego college and play professionally in China. There is still a pretty good floor general on the roster in Nic Moore. Moore gets to lead the Mustangs against the West Coast Conference’s odds on favorite the Gonzaga Bulldogs. With a senior backcourt of Gary Bell, Jr. and Kevin Pangos leading Mark Few’s team, the guard play should be real fun to watch so brew some coffee and kick your feet up.
Auburn at Colorado 1am Tuesday
Following the SMU-Gonzaga tilt Bruce Pearl takes his Auburn Tigers to Boulder to take on a Colorado Buffaloes squad that looks to challenge Arizona in the Pac-12. Spencer Dinwiddie may be gone but Askia Booker returns for his senior season and is joined by juniors Josh Scott and Xavier Johnson. The Buffaloes are hoping to return to the NCAA Tournament after injuries to Dinwiddie and Tre’Shaun Fletcher derailed their momentum. They are rebuilding in Auburn but they do have a solid foundation in transfers Antoine Mason (Niagara), K.C. Ross Miller (New Mexico State) and Cinmeon Bowers (Chipola Junior College).
Northern Iowa at Stephen F. Austin 9am Tuesday
At 9am on Tuesday a mid-major gem takes place as Northern Iowa, who is perhaps Wichita State’s biggest competitor in the Missouri Valley takes on Southland favorite Stephen F. Austin. The Panthers return five seniors including forwards Seth Tuttle and Nate Buss who lead a team that can score but needs to play better defensively if they want to return to the NCAA Tournament. Stephen F. Austin won 32 games (including 29 straight), swept the Southland Conference in the regular season and beat VCU in the NCAA Tournament. So what does coach Brad Underwood do for an encore in his 2nd season? They are the favorites to repeat in the Southland but must replace three seniors but do return conference Player of the Year Jacob Parker, forward Thomas Walkup and guard Try Pinkney.
Wichita State vs. Memphis in Sioux Falls, SD 2pm Tuesday
At 2pm Memphis and Wichita State face off in Sioux Falls, South Dakota of all places. Wichita State entered last year’s NCAA Tournament undefeated at 34-0 and a #1 seed before falling to Kentucky in the 2nd round in an instant classic. Ron Baker, Fred Vanvleet and Tekele Cotton all return for another run, but must figure out how to replace leading scorer and rebounder Cleanthony Early who left for the NBA. Austin Nichols and Shaq Goodwin lead Josh Pastner’s Memphis Tigers as they try to challenge Connecticut for the top spot in the American. They lost a quartet of guards but that is hardly the exception in the conference coming into this year but if Vanderbilt transfer Kedren Johnson can help stabilize a young backcourt, the Tigers will have a chance to contend.
Utah at San Diego State 4pm Tuesday
As a pre-dinner snack on the east coast Utah takes on Mountain West favorite San Diego State. Utah hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2009 and many think this is the year they return to the Big Dance. Forward Jordan Loveridge and guard Delon Wright are the main reason why. They should get an early test in their non-conference schedule that includes games with Wichita State, BYU, Kansas and UNLV all before Christmas. Will seniors J.J. O’Brien and Dwayne Polee II be able to take on a leadership role for Steve Fischer’s Aztecs? Winston Shepherd and Arizona transfer Angelo Chol will help try to fill the void left by the graduation of Xavier Thames and Josh Davis.
High Point at Hawaii 5am Tuesday
If you are still awake at 5am check in on High Point and Hawaii for the beautiful scenery and High Point junior forward John Brown. Brown averaged over 19 points and seven rebounds last season and is one of those names at a low major school that people will hear more and more about as the year goes on.
Surely it will not be easy to stay up for 29 consecutive hours of hoops. If you find yourself dozing off, these are just a few of the games to help you doze strategically during the marathon.
Here is the complete Tip-Off Marathon Schedule(via ESPN Mediazone):
|Mon, Nov 17||7 p.m.||No. 13 Baylor at No. 6 Kentucky women||ESPN2|
|Miami at No. 9 Florida||ESPNU|
|9 p.m.||No. 1 Connecticut at No. 20 Stanford women||ESPN2|
|11 p.m.||No. 12 SMU at No. 15 Gonzaga||ESPN2|
|Legends Classic: Detroit at No. 22 Oregon||ESPNU|
|Tue, Nov 18||1 a.m.||Auburn at Colorado||ESPN2|
|3 a.m.||New Mexico State at Saint Mary’s||ESPN2|
|5 a.m.||High Point at Hawaii||ESPN2|
|7 a.m.||Iona at Wofford||ESPN2|
|9 a.m.||Northern Iowa at Stephen F. Austin||ESPN2|
|11 a.m.||Manhattan at UMass||ESPN2|
|Noon||Baylor at South Carolina||ESPN|
|2 p.m.||No. 5 Wichita State vs. Memphis (Sioux Falls, S.D.)||ESPN|
|4 p.m.||Utah at No. 20 San Diego State||ESPN|
|6 p.m.||College GameDay (Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis)||ESPN|
|Legends Classic: Toledo at No. 14 VCU||ESPNU|
|7 p.m.||State Farm Champions Classic (Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis): No. 18 Michigan State vs. No. 2 Duke||ESPN|
|7:30 p.m.||Marquette at Ohio State||ESPN2|
|9:30 p.m.||State Farm Champions Classic (Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis): No. 10 Kansas vs. No. 1 Kentucky||ESPN|
|9:30 p.m.||Texas Tech at LSU||ESPN2|