Image: State Farm Champions Classic - Michigan State v Kansas

Breaking down Tip-Off Marathon’s schedule: Snoozers until an epic nightcap

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ESPN (slowly) released the schedule for their now-annual College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon on Monday afternoon, and — quite frankly — the first 12 hours or so weren’t exactly worth the wait.

But the last four hours?

Look out.

After a full 24 hours worth of basketball — the marathon technically starts at 7 p.m. the night before — we get the season’s first installment of College Gameday, as the ESPN crew heads to the United Center for one could end up being the best double-header of hoops we get all season long.

It starts with a 7:30 p.m. (all times Eastern) tip with Michigan State taking on Kentucky, who just may be the two best teams in the country heading into the 2013-2014 season. Kentucky brings in their all-world recruiting class that could end up sending seven players into the first round of the 2014 NBA Draft. Michigan State brought back both Gary Harris and Adreian Payne, both of whom are potential lottery picks, putting the Spartans right back into the national title conversation.

Coach Cal’s talent vs. Tom Izzo’s game-planning. Yes, please.

And it may not even be the most memorable game of the night, as the nightcap of the Marathon pits Kansas against Duke. The Jayhawks were thought to be an afterthought heading into the year, as their lineup is as young on paper as anyone in the country. That all changed when Kansas got, ironically enough, younger with Andrew Wiggins’ commitment. That single talent rocketed them up preseason top 25’s, and created all kinds of intrigue as the Jayhawks get set to take on Coach K’s Blue Devils.

Duke will have plenty of talent, with Rodney Hood eligible and Rasheed Sulaimon back, but the headlining matchup will likely end up being Jabari Parker, who was labeled the best prospect since LeBron by Sports Illustrated, against Wiggins.

Bill Self and Wiggins vs. Coach K and Parker? This could be epic.

That’s not all, however, as ESPN will also be airing two more intriguing matchups. At 7 p.m., VCU will be taking on Virginia in one of the biggest contrasts in styles we will see this season. VCU runs ‘Havoc’, a full-court pressing system designed around steals, layups and threes. Virginia, on the other hand, wants to play as slowly as possible, packing in their defense and running 30 seconds off the clock every possession. To make things more intriguing, Shaka Smart and Tony Bennett coached together on the U19 team this summer.

When that game ends, Florida will be taking on Wisconsin, a tip that is scheduled for 9 p.m. The Gators are going to be a contender for the SEC title regardless of whether Chris Walker gets eligible, but Wisconsin should be pretty good next season as well. Expect a big year out of Sam Dekker.

That’s how the Marathon ends.

It starts the night before, with a 7 p.m. game between one of the stronger program’s in the MAC, Kent State, taking on a Temple team that will be in rebuilding mode in their first season in the AAC. That is followed up by a depleted Colorado State team squaring off with Gonzaga, who likely cost themselves at least five years of preseason hype by flaming out in the Round of 32 after earning a No. 1 seed last March.

The marathon officially starts at 11 p.m., with BYU heading down to Palo Alto to take on Stanford. The Cougars have one of the best scorers in the country in Tyler Haws, who averaged more than 20 points last season despite missing two years on his Mormon mission, while Stanford’s talent seems to have finally matured enough to make a run at an NCAA tournament berth.

That game will be followed by Western Kentucky visiting Wichita State, a 1 a.m. tip — midnight local time — between a loaded Shocker team coming off of a Final Four run and a Hilltopper team that has twice captured lightening in a bottle, winning the Sun Belt automatic bid the past two seasons. There is some intrigue there, although I fully expect Gregg Marshall’s team to walk all over WKU.

And then things get a bit methodical. It’s tough to find teams willing to play at all hours of the night, you know?

Akron visits Marathon stalwart St. Mary’s at 3 a.m., a game that would have been much more enticing before Matthew Dellavedova and Zeke Marshall graduated. New Mexico State visits Hawaii at 5 a.m., which may only be watchable for a repeat of this overpowering drop-step from 7-foot-5 Sim Bhullar:

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The 7 a.m. tip will feature Hartford visiting Andy Enfield-less Florida-Gulf Coast, entertaining only if #DunkCity gets their coffee. That’s followed by another NCAA tournament darling, La Salle, hosting Quinnipiac at 9 a.m.

LSU-UMass at 11 a.m. has a chance to be a game with major bubble implications, and the Minutemen have one of the most entertaining guards in the country to watch in Chaz Williams. The 1 p.m. tip doesn’t have quite as much going for it, as West Virginia — who finished below .500 last year and lost what seems like half their roster to transfer — takes on a Virginia Tech team that was a (bad) one-man show a year ago and lost that one-man, Erick Green.

South Carolina at Baylor at 3 p.m. could be interesting if Frank Martin’s talented recruiting class can have an immediate impact, but the talent infusion seems like more of a long-term play. Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson should be too much to handle.

At 5 p.m., NC State will visit Cincinnati in a relatively forgettable matchup between two teams that will be in a bit of a rebuilding mode. The Bearcats will rely quite heavily on Sean Kilpatrick this season as they try to make the tournament out of the AAC, while NC State is coming off a massively disappointing 2012-2013 season in which they lost CJ Leslie, Lorenzo Brown, Richard Howell and Scott Wood.

WEEKEND PREVIEW: Kansas-Oklahoma rematch and who gets the No. 1 seeds?

Kansas guard Wayne Selden Jr. steals the ball from Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield during the first half on Monday, Jan. 19, 2015, night at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kan. (Travis Heying/Wichita Eagle/TNS via Getty Images)
(Travis Heying/Wichita Eagle/TNS via Getty Images)
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GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 6 Kansas at No. 3 Oklahoma, Sat. 2:30 p.m.

The rematch we’ve all been waiting for will happen on Saturday.

A little more than a month after Buddy Hield burst onto the national scene with 46 points in a triple-overtime thriller — thriller doesn’t do it justice, that was one of the best college basketball games of all time — the Jayhawks will may their return trip to Norman to take of the Sooners. Only the circumstances of Saturday’s showdown will be a little bit different than what they were on that Monday night in January, when the No. 1 team in the AP poll squared off with the No. 1 team in the Coaches poll.

Oklahoma is no longer the No. 1 team in the country, as they’ve gone just 3-2 in their last five games while needing last-second game-winners to hang on against LSU and Texas during that stretch. But Kansas is not longer ranked at the top of the polls either, as the Jayhawks have managed just a 2-3 record in the Big 12 away from Phog Allen Fieldhouse, with those two wins coming against TCU and Texas Tech. They needed to beat West Virginia on Tuesday night just to ensure that this game would feature two teams sitting at the top of the Big 12 standings.

And that, at the end of the day, is going to be the most important takeaway from this game. Kansas plays four of their last seven Big 12 games on the road, and three of those road trips are against top 25 teams. Oklahoma? They have four road trips left as well, but they will be paying visits to Texas Tech and TCU during that stretch. That’s what makes the result of this one so important. Oklahoma, with a win, would put themselves in the driver’s seat for the Big 12 title race, and with a (road) game left against West Virginia — the third team tied for first in the league — they would control their own title destiny.

Before I move on, there’s one other interesting point that needs to be made here. When these two teams last played, Hield and Kansas guard Wayne Selden both looked like Big 12 Player of the Year candidates. Since then, Hield has emerged as the clear favorite for National Player of the Year, Selden has fallen off the map. It’s been 10 games since these two last faced off. Selden blew up for 33 in the win over Kentucky, but in the other nine games, he’s averaging just 9.9 points; he’s scored a total of 21 points in three games since beating Kentucky.

THIS ONE’S GOOD, TOO: No. 24 Texas at No. 14 Iowa State, Sat. 8:30 p.m.

The Longhorns are suddenly looking like a legitimate Big 12 contender, which was not exactly expected to happen during Shaka Smart’s first season in Austin. The Cyclones, on the other hand, are trending in the opposite direction. They just lost at Texas Tech, they’re starting center (Jameel McKay) has been suspended for two games stemming from the way he’s behaved in practice and, even with McKay in the lineup, Iowa State is working with, essentially, a six-man rotation. So here’s the question: Will this game be the turning point in Iowa State’s season, or will Texas continue their assault on the top of the conference?

OH, AND HOW ABOUT THIS: No. 23 USC at No. 17 Arizona, Sun. 8:00 p.m.

Oregon is probably still the best team in the Pac-12 despite the loss to Cal last night, but USC and Arizona are the two teams that are the most likely to be able to make a run at unseating the Ducks from the top of the conference. As a matter of fact, the Trojans might be the most talented team in the Pac-12, but we’re basing all of this off of an Arizona team that was without Allonzo Trier for four weeks. Now that he is back and working his way into the rotation, this will be a nice gauge to see just how good the Wildcats really are.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

  1. Duke seems to have righted the ship when it comes to their season. The Blue Devils have won three straight and four of their last five, including Monday’s win over No. 13 Louisville. They get a visit from a streaking No. 7 Virginia at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, a team that has gone from being atrocious on the road to blowing out Louisville and Pitt in their own buildings.
  2. Indiana is coming off of a huge win over No. 4 Iowa on Thursday night, but there’s no time for rest as the Hoosiers will be at No. 8 Michigan State, tipping off on Sunday 1:00 p.m. Michigan State just lost to Purdue on Tuesday, dropping them to 7-5 in the league, three games off the pace in the conference.
  3. No. 5 Xavier was mollywhopped by Creighton on the road on Tuesday. Butler? They picked up a critical win for their bubble profile at Seton Hall on Wednesday. The two will square off in Hinkle Fieldhouse on Saturday at 2:30 p.m.
  4. We’re going to find out a lot about the SEC power structure this weekend. At noon on Saturday, No. 22 Kentucky will travel up to Columbia to take on South Carolina, both of whom are sitting in a tie for first in the league standings. Just an hour later, No. 15 Texas A&M — who was the best team in the SEC but now sits a game out of first place — will trip to Baton Rouge to take on LSU. The Tigers? They’re right there with Kentucky and South Carolina, tied for first in the conference.
  5. The bottom-line is this: Gonzaga will not be receiving an at-large bid to the tournament if they do not win at No. 16 SMU on Saturday. Tip is at 10:00 p.m.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET?: Everyone

Ok, maybe not everyone.

But the easiest way to predict upsets — meaning ranked teams losing to unranked teams, not teams favored to win losing — it to look at which ranked teams are playing on the road and to decide which of those unranked teams are actually good. Well, this weekend, ten ranked teams will be firing up the busses (or chartered jets) and paying a visit to an unranked opponent: No. 5 Xavier, No. 7 Virginia, No. 11 Oregon, No. 12 Miami (FL), No. 13 Louisville, No. 15 Texas A&M, No. 18 Purdue, No. 19 Dayton, No. 22 Kentucky and No. 23 USC. Of those ten teams, only Dayton (at Rhode Island) will be visiting a team that is out of the NCAA tournament picture.

And that’s saying nothing of Gonzaga’s visit to No. 16 SMU. Or UCLA’s visit to No. 17 Arizona. Or Pitt playing at No. 9 UNC. Or Indiana heading to No. 8 Michigan State.

In other words, expect to see quite a few teams with numbers next to their name take a loss in the next three days.

WHAT WE’LL BE TALKING ABOUT ON MONDAY: You mean other than what’s assured to be another class between Kansas and Oklahoma?

Maybe now it’s time to start discussing No. 1 seeds. Because of just how wide open this season has been, it feels like that part of the bracketology discussion has been somewhat overlooked. Usually, at this point in the year, that’s a dominant part of the conversation. Last season, the big story was whether or not Wisconsin and Kentucky were going to end up being slotted in the same region as a No. 1 and a No. 2 seed, and what the Badgers had to do to break into that No. 1 seed line.

This year?

That talk hasn’t really kicked off yet. So let’s change that, shall we?

Villanova, at this point, feels like the only lock for a No. 1 seed for a couple reasons: 1) Their profile is impressive, and 2) there doesn’t really appear to be anyone in the Big East that’s ready to challenge them. I’m not sure that a loss at Xavier will really be enough to drop them down a seed line.

I’d wager a guess that Oklahoma is probably a favorite to get a No. 1 seed right now as well, particularly if they knock off Kansas on Saturday. Currently, Oklahoma has six top 50 wins, an 11-3 record against the top 100 and three losses that all came in true road games, the worst of which is current bubble team Kansas State. If the Jayhawks win, they’ll be a No. 1 seed in Monday’s bracket projections and they may be on that seed line even with a loss. Kansas has eight top 50 wins, a 12-3 record against the top 100 and four losses that all came away from Phog Allen Fieldhouse. The one black eye? That loss to Oklahoma State.

That fourth No. 1 seed? Even with the loss last night, it’s probably Iowa. Their worst loss is at Indiana and they have six top 50 wins, although none of those wins — at least in the eyes of the RPI, that 19 point drubbing of Michigan State at the Breslin Center was damn impressive — are as good as Virginia’s three best wins. But all four of Virginia’s losses are worse than any of Iowa’s

So I’ll rock with Iowa for now. I’d lean Virginia over North Carolina if the Hawkeyes lose this weekend. Both teams have lost four games, all on the road, and while UNC’s losses are “better”, Virginia has much better wins. Eight in the top 50, to be exact, compared to just three for the Tar Heels. It will be nine top 50 wins for the ‘Hoos if they can take care of Duke this weekend.

I’m not sure Maryland has enough quality wins available on their schedule to be able to play their way up to the No. 1 seed line, while Oregon has too many losses at this point to be thought of as more than a No. 2/3 seed.

THE REST OF THE WEEKEND’S NOTABLE GAMES

UCLA at No. 17 Arizona, Fri. 7:00 p.m.
No. 19 Dayton at Rhode Island, Fri. 7:00 p.m.
No. 23 USC at Arizona State, Fri. 8:00 p.m.
Northern Iowa at No. 25 Wichita State, Sat. 12:00 p.m.
No. 18 Purdue at Michigan, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
No. 11 Oregon at Stanford, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
No. 13 Louisville at Notre Dame, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
Pitt at No. 9 North Carolina, Sun. 1:00 p.m.
No. 12 Miami (FL) at Florida State, Sun. 6:30 p.m.

Indiana upsets No. 4 Iowa, moves into first-place tie in Big Ten

Indiana's Troy Williams (5) and Collin Hartman (30) celebrate after Williams made a shot and was fouled during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Iowa, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016, in Bloomington, Ind. Indiana won 85-78. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
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Indiana picked off the No. 4 team in the country on Thursday night, beating Iowa in Assembly Hall, 85-78.

It goes without saying that this was a huge win for the Hoosiers. They had just a single top 50 win on their résumé entering the night. They were on the right side of the bubble entering the day, but for a team that just moved into a tie for first place in the Big Ten with the win, they were no where near as safe as you might think.

You read that right.

Indiana is not exactly safe when it comes to their NCAA tournament standing despite, on February 11th, being tied with Iowa and Maryland for first place in the Big Ten.

So yes, adding a top ten win to that profile is incredibly significant.

Having a realistic shot at winning the Big Ten regular season title is incredibly significant.

But more than anything, how this win came to be matters more than anything.

For starters, it came on a night where Yogi Ferrell was off. He hit his first shot and his last shot of the night, but missed all ten field goal attempts in between. He finished with just one assist compared to two turnovers and four fouls. He was bad. And it didn’t matter. For a team that relies as heavily upon a player as Indiana relies upon Yogi, that’s significant.

As is the fact that the Hoosiers were able to win despite blowing a 16-point lead. Remember, Indiana had lost to Penn State on Saturday. Following that up by blowing a huge lead at home in the most important game of the season is the kind of thing that can obliterate a team’s confidence, and with a brutal stretch run — at Michigan State, Nebraska, Purdue, at Illinois, at Iowa, Maryland — getting into a funk now would be a season-killer.

Six Hoosiers scored at least nine points, led by 14 from Ferrell, while it was the play of Thomas Bryant and Troy Williams, grabbing 10 of Indiana’s 19 offensive rebounds, that really made the difference; the Hoosiers scored 26 second-chance points.

As far as Iowa is concerned, the only real problem coming from this loss was their inability to keep Indiana off of the offensive glass. The Hoosiers had 12 offensive rebounds in the first 20 minutes. Iowa had 11 total rebounds. On the season, the Hawkeyes are 225th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage. Indiana gets to the offensive glass as well as anyone, but Fran McCaffery is not going to be happy about their numbers — or effort — when he watches this film.