This year’s version of the ESPN Tip-Off Marathon begins at 10pm on Monday with Princeton traveling to Provo to face BYU and concludes with No.1 Duke battles No. 4 Kansas in the Champion’s Classic at Madison Square Garden. In between there are nine contests that feature high major, mid major and low major teams along with an assortment of playing styles from Green Bay’s methodical to Oregon’s track meet style.
Gonzaga must replace their top two scorers Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis, but they welcome two key transfers that are eligible this season in Nigel Williams-Goss who transferred from Washington where he averaged 15.6 points, 5.9 assists and 4.7 rebounds in his final season. Joining him is Jordan Mathews who is a graduate transfer from California where he averaged 13.4 points last season. Add those two components to a team that won 28 games last season with a trip to the Sweet Sixteen last season, the expectations are again high for Mark Few’s squad. They face a San Diego State team that reached the NIT Semifinals last season and won 28 games and is the favorite in a down Mountain West Conference this season. The Aztecs return five of their top six scorers only having to replace Winston Shepard but sophomore Zylan Cheatham is poised to have a bigger impact after averaging 7.9 points and 5.4 rebounds in his first year.
At 11am Longwood faces Stephen F. Austin. This game is interesting because of changes in the Stephen F. Austin program this summer, Mr. Everything Thomas Walkup has graduated and the coach that put the program on the map has moved on to be the head man at Oklahoma State. The Lumberjacks chose Texas A&M assistant and great recruiter Kyle Keller to take the helm and we get an early looking at the new-look Lumberjacks.
Final Four candidate Oregon finishes the afternoon slate with a game against Baylor. The Ducks won 31 games but lost to Oklahoma in the West Regional Final. The Ducks return five of their top seven scorers from last season, add to that Dylan Ennis returns after playing just two games after transferring from Villanova and the reigning JuCo player of the year Kavell Bigby-Williams joins the flock of Ducks looking to go even further this year.
The Champion’s Classic doubleheader finishes off the marathon with three of the top four teams in the country and a Michigan State team that is ranked in the top 15. You could also call these two games the Freshmen Classic as last year was the year of the senior, this season the elite freshmen have returned. In the first game No. 3 Kentucky faces No. 13 Michigan State. Last year’s Spartan team lost as a #2 seed to Middle Tennessee State in the NCAA Tournament and had a bunch of off-season defections but their contribution to the fabulous freshmen is guard Miles Bridges who will help ease the transition to life after Denzel Valentine in the Spartan backcourt. The Wildcats have their own quartet of first-year stars, two in the backcourt and two more up front. De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk join sophomore Isaiah Briscoe to give Kentucky arguably the best guard combination in the country. Wenyen Gabriel (6’9) and Bam Adebayo (6’10) give the Cats two lengthy pieces to their inexperienced frontcourt.
The finale of the marathon features the No. 1 team in the country Duke facing the Kings of the Big 12, No. 4 Kansas. The Blue Devils have three of the best freshmen in the country but all three; Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles and Marques Bolden have suffered injuries and the status of Tatum and Bolden are for the classic is in question. But unlike Kentucky, Duke returns a loaded roster including pre-season player of the year candidate Grayson Allen, a returning Amile Jefferson and a pair of Luke Kennard and Chase Jeter. Kansas has freshman guard Joshua Jackson to help the Jayhawks to continue to reign over the Big 12 and Bill Self has himself a good test for his team young team that now only has two seniors that saw significant playing time last season in Landen Lucas and Frank Mason.
It has been a long off-season but the time is nearly here for the kickoff of what is sure to be another fantastic basketball season.