Here’s to hoping that all of you college hoopheads out there were able to get a good night’s sleep on Sunday, because Monday night brings with it the now-annual College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon.
What that means is that for a full 24 hours — actually, its closer to 30 if you’re like me and willing to start the “marathon” with Monday’s 7:00 pm tips — starting when the calendar changes from Monday until Tuesday, there will be a college basketball game on TV. For me, this is the precipice of heaven. I’ll be up all night watching, pounding Monster’s (Red Bull is just too weak these days) and, in all likelihood, putting down an extra large pizza by myself.
Sounds glorious, doesn’t it?
For the majority of the sane world, however, I realize that life does not revolve around college basketball and the chance to stay up all night, drinking caffeine and eating pizza (all of a sudden, this sounds like a sixth grade slumber party). So I decided to break down the marathon for you. Hopefully, this helps you select which games to watch, which games to ignore and when to fire up the TiVO:
Only miss these games to see the birth of your FIRST child:
1. 8:00 pm: Florida @ Ohio State: You remember what happened last year, right? The Gators hung with Ohio State for the first 25 minutes or so before Jared Sullinger took over and carried the Buckeyes to a resounding, 93-75 win. And that happened when the Gators had a big front line. This season, all of the weight of battling in the paint will fall on the shoulders of Patric Young. Part of what makes that matchup in the post so intriguing is that Young and Sullinger are both potential lottery picks, but they are nearly polar opposites in terms of ability. Sullinger is a big, physical, fairly-unathletic kid with a variety of post moves and an innate understanding of positioning and how to use his hindquarters. Young, on the other hand, still has a way to go in terms of learning how to play the game and developing his post arsenal, but he’s a freak athlete.
The matchup in the back court carries some intrigue as well. Florida’s potent back court has been well-publicized. Erving Walker, Kenny Boynton, Bradley Beal and Mike Rosario are as talented as any perimeter attack in the country. But the Buckeyes have a couple of all-league caliber guards on their roster as well. Aaron Craft will lock down whoever Thad Matta decides to put him on while William Buford will be a difficult matchup for any of the Billy Donovan’s defenders. The x-factor may be Lenzelle Smith. The sophomore looked like a promising defensive player in Ohio State’s first game of the year vs. Wright State. Now is a chance to prove it.
2. 7:00 pm: Duke vs. Michigan State (Madison Square Garden): First and foremost, the interest in this game has less to do in the action on the court than what the result of a Duke win means off the court. You couldn’t have written the story any better. Coach K is in line to win his 903rd game at the Garden on national television in an event called the Champion’s Classic. What is the significance of the number 903? Its one more than the number of wins current record-holder Bobby Knight had in his career. There is no doubt that Duke fans will be scrounging for these ticket stubs should the Blue Devils pull out the win.
There is no guarantee that Duke wins this game, however. The Blue Devils resemble North Carolina to me in a few ways. They have a point guard that can’t defend his own shadow and tall, athletic posts that can be pushed around by more physical defenders. In the Carrier Classic last Friday, the Spartans abused Carolina on the offensive glass. They forced their fair share of turnovers as well. If Michigan State hadn’t shot an abysmal 30.6% from the floor, they would have had a chance to win that game. If Draymond Green, Derrick Nix and Branden Dawson were able to push around John Henson and Tyler Zeller, what happens when they go up against the Plumlees.
3. 12:00 pm: Belmont @ Memphis: This is the most intriguing game of the entire marathon for me. This is the Tiger’s first real game of the season, and while we are all expecting Josh Pastner’s terrific sophomore class to show a marked improvement, there is no guarantee that will happen. Belmont is not an easy team to play in the first game of the season. Just ask Duke, who needed a late three from Andre Dawkins to finally take control against the Bruins.
Belmont is deep, they are experienced and they love to press and are excellent at forcing turnovers. The Memphis back court of Joe Jackson, Charles Carmouche and Antonio Barton is not going to have an easy task trying to protect the ball. The other thing Belmont does well is shoot the ball. They have a tendency to live and die by the three, but they get hot as a team; when a couple go down, the Bruins are capable of catching fire and hitting five or six in a row. But what makes Belmont an ideal upset candidate is that they have a couple big bodies inside in Mick Hedgepeth and Scott Saunders. Folks in Memphis have been raving about Tarik Black, the Tiger’s sophomore center, and having two capable post players to throw at him is important.
You can miss these for a hot date, but they have to be at least a nine and NOT already your significant other:
4. 9:30 pm: Kentucky vs. Kansas (Madison Square Garden): I have to be honest — I don’t think Kansas is going to be able to hang with the Wildcats. I love Thomas Robinson as much as anyone in the country this side of Jeff Goodman and I think that Bill Self is a terrific coach, but the Jayhawks are not deep and they are not overly experienced, meaning that most of their players are taking on (much) more expanded roles this year. I’m not convinced that Elijah Johnson and Tyshawn Taylor are the answer at the point, either. As for Kentucky, the Wildcats are once again incorporating a loaded recruiting class, but this year they add that crop of youngsters to a couple of talented sophomores in Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb. I have a bad feeling this game could end up looking something like the Carrier Classic.
5. 2:00 am: Northern Iowa @ St. Mary’s: Northern Iowa was supposed to be going through a bit of a rebuilding season this year, as they deal with replacing Lucas O’Rear and Kwadzo Ahelegbe. I, personally, had them in the bottom half of the Missouri Valley. (Well, sixth, but six out of ten in the bottom half.) That’s why I was the first to get in line congratulating the Panthers for their 17 points road win against an Old Dominion team that had Kent Bazemore in the lineup. This will be a real test for UNI, however. St. Mary’s may have lost Mickey McConnell, but they brought back Matthew Dellavedova to anchor a back court with a couple of talented sophomores. The Gaels also return their entire front line, meaning that Jake Koch is going to have his hands full. This would be a big win for both teams and both leagues. The MVC has had a good early showing (Missouri State won at Nevada) while Loyola Marymount’s win over UCLA was negated by their loss to Middle Tennessee State and San Francisco’s loss to North Dakota State.
6. 12:00 am: Washington State @ Gonzaga: Elias Harris looks like he is all-but back to his freshman year form, as he soared for a couple of big throwdowns in the Zags opening day win against Eastern Washington. Harris finished with 16 points and eight boards, but he wasn’t even the best big man on the team, as Robert Sacre went for 22 points and 10 boards. But Gonzaga’s back court struggled on both ends of the floor, allowing EWU to shoot 13-29 from three. The Cougars have a couple of talented guards in Reggie Moore and Faisal Aden. Will the Bulldogs be able to stop them?
You can play bridge with your Grandmother, just make sure you have the game on in the back ground:
7. 2:00 pm: San Diego State @ Baylor: San Diego State will be playing their fourth game in five days on Tuesday (by the end of the week, it will be six games in nine days), with their tip in Waco coming barely 40 hours after the final whistle of the Aztec’s 89-74 win over UC-Davis. SDSU is 3-0 heading into the game, getting some terrific play out of their back court of Chase Tapley, Jamaal Franklin and Xavier Thames. The issue, however, is that Baylor’s front line is loaded even with Perry Jones sitting out, while SDSU relies on a guy that struggled to get minutes on LSU last season. Its too bad this game couldn’t have been played with last year’s SDSU team.
8. 4:00 pm: Rhode Island @ Texas: For the first time in what feels like forever, the Longhorns are going to be rebuilding this season. They have a couple of pieces in their back court — Myck Kabongo has been compared to Chris Paul too many times to court, while J’Covan Brown had 28 points and eight assists in his first game — but Rhody is no pushover. They got 38 points from Jamil Wilson as they took George Mason to overtime at the Patriot Center on Friday. Can they give Texas a similar run?
9. 10:00 am: Kent State @ West Virginia: Kent State might as well be the same team as Oral Roberts. Both are veteran-laden teams with a history of success in the program and a potential conference Player of the Year at the forward spot. Oral Roberts lost to WVU 78-71 on Friday night, and the Golden Eagles shot themselves in the foot down the stretch, making a couple of mental mistakes and missing two wide-open threes. Justin Greene is the guy to keep an eye on for Kent State. But if that’s not enough, you should watch to get a glimpse of Deniz Kilicli, who is doing his best to try and look like the Mountaineer mascot.
10. 10:00 pm: Austin Peay @ California: The Governors have a star in Tyshawn Edmundson, a St. John’s transfer that can put up points in a hurry. That said, Cal has been one of the most impressive teams in the country early in the season (and the only impressive team in the Pac-12). It will be worth it to watch Jorge Gutierrez try and slow down Edmundson.
11. 6:00 am: Drexel @ Rider: I know this game looks boring on paper, but there is some intrigue here. Drexel is a favorite to win the CAA this season. Bruiser Flint’s team is, essentially, a mid-major model of Pitt. They preach defensive discipline and attack the glass with reckless abandon. This Rider team just lost to Pitt by a score of 86-78 on Sunday, and the game was much closer than the final. It took an Ashton Gibbs three with a minute left to finally open up a six point cushion. What else are you going to watch, anyway? Good Morning America?
You know what? Go ahead. Get some sleep. I won’t even be mad:
12. 8:00 am: Morehead State @ College of Charleston: It will be fun to see two mid-major superstars go head-to-head in Kenneth Faried and Andrew Goudelock. Wait, what? They graduated? Oh. Well, then.
13. South Alabama @ Hawaii: If you stay up through this game, you’ve reached true junkie status by allowing your addiction to affect your work. There is no way you’ll be able to function normally the rest of the week. I can tell you this, though: Troy will be up for this game. He loves the Rainbows.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.