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A Viewer’s Guide to the Tip-Off Marathon

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ESPN’s annual Tip-Off Marathon begins tonight at 7:00 p.m. (all time Eastern), so in an effort to get you prepared, we at CBT will be giving you a handy guide to help you schedule out the next 29 hours of your life.

You’re welcome.

ONLY MISS THESE GAMES FOR THE BIRTH OF YOUR FIRST CHILD:

The Champions Classic, Tue. 7:30 p.m.  (ESPN): Don’t know what the Champions Classic is? Have you been living under a rock?

The last two years, Duke, Michigan State, Kentucky and Kansas have participated in an event during the first week of the season where the four teams will show up in a city and play a double-header. The matchups rotate every year, and this season, they are just ridiculous, and the perfect way to cap the Tip-Off Marathon.

No. 1 Kentucky takes on No. 2 Michigan State at 7:30 p.m., which is obviously awesome since it pits No. 1 against No. 2. But there’s more intrigue here. Kentucky is obscenely talented, but they are chock full of freshmen and sophomores. The Spartans aren’t quite as talented, but they have veterans up and down their lineup. Who wins out?

It wouldn’t be fair to call that game the undercard, but the nightcap will just about match the first game in terms of hype. No. 4 Duke takes on No. 5 Kansas, which is thrilling in its own right before you consider that Jabari Parker will be returning to him hometown to take on Andrew Wiggins, the freshmen who usurped his standing as the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2013.

DVR IS ACCEPTABLE, BUT MAKE SURE YOU WATCH LATER ON:

No. 14 VCU at No. 25 Virginia, Tue. 7:00 p.m. (ESPN2): Talk about a contrast of styles. VCU is notorious for their Havoc defense, a 40-minute full-court assault on opposing ball-handlers. The Rams abused Illinois State in their opener, but they’ll have a much tougher task with the Cavs on Tuesday night. Virginia is a sleeper in the ACC, a team with two of the most underrated players in the country in Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell. The issue is that Virginia is working through incorporating a new point guard into their rotation after Jontel Evans graduated. That won’t be an easy gig against Shaka Smart’s boys.

No. 11 Florida at No. 20 Wisconsin, Tue. 9:00 p.m. (ESPN2): Florida gets their first real test of the season, but the Gators will once again be short-handed as they deal with suspensions and injuries early on this season. The Badgers certainly challenged themselves early this season, as they already knocked off St. John’s on Friday night. As good as these two programs are, the stars from Friday’s openers were relative no-names: Casey Prather popped off for 28 points against North Florida while Duje Dukan had 15 big points for Wisconsin.

BYU at Stanford, Mon. 11:00 p.m. (ESPN): BYU has one of the nation’s best scorers in Tyler Haws, who is a pleasure to watch if you are a hoops snob like your truly. A 6-foot-3 off-guard, Haws is one of the best players in the country at running off of screens and moving without the ball. The Cougars are a fun team to watch in general as they love to get out and run the floor. Stanford actually has a chance to be a contender in the Pac-12 this season, as they returned a balanced and talented roster from a season. The combination of big man Dwight Powell and lead guard Chasson Randle have yet to churn out the wins that Cardinal fans expected.

FIRE UP ESPN3 AT WORK FOR:

LSU at UMass, Tue. 11:00 a.m. (ESPN2): One of the most sneaky-good games of the first week of the season. LSU should be much-improved this season, with Anthony Hickey and Johnny O’Bryant being joined by a talented recruiting class for Johnny Jones. UMass is an Atlantic 10 contender, however, led by Chaz Williams, who is one of the most entertaining guards in the country.

N.C. State at Cincinnati, Tue. 5:00 p.m. (ESPN): The Wolfpack are an intriguing team to keep an eye on this season. A slimmed-down T.J. Warren could end up being the ACC’s leading scorer this season, and Cat Barber and Tyler Lewis make up for a fun-to-watch back court. But can Mark Gottfried get this group to win games? They’ll have a tough test at Cincinnati, a team that is led by Sena Kilpatrick and has become known for their physicality and toughness.

MAKE A POT OF COFFEE SO YOU CAN STAY UP FOR:

Colorado State at No. 18 Gonzaga, Mon. 9:00 p.m. (ESPN): Colorado State was a contender in the Mountain West the past couple of seasons, but they’ll be rebuilding this year after losing their top six players to graduation. The Zags lost Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris, but with Kevin Pangos back and Sam Dower finally getting a chance up front, this group could surprise some folks.

Western Kentucky at No. 13 Wichita State, Tue. 1:00 a.m. (ESPN): The Hilltoppers have been to back-to-back NCAA tournaments and return enough talent that they should compete for the Sun Belt title. But the Shockers are coming off of a run to the Final Four and enter the season with a ton of hype. Can Cleanthony Early and Ron Baker impress in their reintroduction to the nation?

NCAA TOURNAMENT DARLINGS ON DISPLAY:

Wichita State isn’t the only team coming off of an NCAA tournament run to be playing a showcase game during the marathon. Florida-Gulf Coast gets a visit from Hartford at 7:00 a.m. Tuesday morning, a game that will be followed up by Quinnipiac tripping to Philly to take on La Salle at 9:00 a.m.

NAPS ARE ACCEPTABLE DURING:

  • Kent State at Temple, Mon. 7:00 p.m. (ESPN)
  • Akron at Saint Mary’s, Tue. 3:00 a.m. (ESPN)
  • New Mexico State at Hawaii, Tue. 5:00 a.m. (ESPN)
  • West Virginia at Virginia Tech, Tues. 1:00 p.m. (ESPN)
  • South Carolina at No. 23 Baylor, 3:00 p.m. (ESPN)

Duke knocks off No. 13 Louisville in first game of critical four-game stretch

Duke's Grayson Allen (3) and Marshall Plumlee (40) react during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Louisville in Durham, N.C., Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. Duke won 72-65. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
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Grayson Allen scored 16 of his 19 points in the first half and Brandon Ingram added 18 points, 10 boards and four assists as Duke picked up a critical win over No. 13 Louisville in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Monday night, 72-65.

A call this a critical win for the Blue Devils because it kicks off what may be the most important two-week stretch of Duke’s schedule This weekend, the Blue Devils square off with No. 9 Virginia. Next Wednesday, they’re at the Dean Dome to take on No. 7 North Carolina. Four days after that, they head to the Bluegrass State to pay a visit to Louisville.

 

With the way that Duke has been struggling on the defensive end of the floor without Amile Jefferson, that’s a stretch that could derail Duke’s season; entering Monday, all four of those games were losable. But a four-game winning streak — or even going 3-1 in that stretch — could completely change the tenor of what has been a fairly disappointing year for the defending champs, and that’s before they get Jefferson back to 100 percent.

And the difference was defensively, at least in the first half.

I’ve written in this space a number of times about how opponents know what they’re going to get from Duke defensively. Coach K, traditionally, plays half court man-to-man defense, switching every exchange — ball-screen, off-ball pick or simply when two players run by one another — that doesn’t involve the center. In recent years, he’s played some zone in situations where he defense has struggled or, like this season, when he doesn’t have the depth to risk foul trouble. We’ve even seen some 2-2-1 pressure from him of late.

But on Monday night, Duke played straight man-to-man for much of the game, and in the first half, it seemed to fluster the Cardinals. They scored just 24 points in the first 20 minutes, and while Louisville did find a way to break Duke down defensively in the second half — they shot better than 55 percent from the floor after the break — but part of the reason Duke was able to win this game was the lead they built. After a three from Allen opened scoring in the second half, the Blue Devils were up by 14, and while Louisville made a run down the stretch, they could never get control of the game.

Duke is becoming appointment viewing for basketball nerds like me that pay too much attention to X’s-and-O’s to see what kind of wrinkle Coach K is going to put in to try and compensate defensively, so I’m not sure that this performance sticks. But it is worth noting that this was the first time in eight games the Blue Devils gave up less than 1.0 PPP, and the first time since Dec. 19th they did so against an NCAA tournament-caliber team.

As far as Louisville is concerned, you have to tip your hat to those kids. They played their hearts out and fought back from a big deficit in one of the toughest places in the country to play. They did all that three days after their school ripped their hearts out with an NCAA tournament ban for this season.

So good for them. You never know how a team is going to react to something like that, but the Cardinal players showed that they have some serious fight in them.

Iowa State’s starting center Jameel McKay remains suspended

Iowa State forward Jameel McKay celebrates on the court at the end of an NCAA college basketball game against Oklahoma, Monday, Jan. 18, 2016, in Ames, Iowa. Iowa State won 82-77. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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Steve Prohm announced on Monday that starting center Jameel McKay will not be in the lineup on Wednesday when the Cyclones take on Texas Tech.

“He’ll practice today because I want him in practice,” Prohm said, “but game-wise, he’s suspended.”

McKay did not make the trip to Stillwater with the team on Saturday, where Iowa State beat Oklahoma State, 64-59. Prohm has not gotten into specifics regarding the cause of McKay’s suspension, but it’s reportedly an issue with the way he has been practicing. McKay is dealing with a nagging knee injury, which may play a role in the situation as well.

“My hope is he’ll be with us on Saturday,” Prohm said.