Once again, ESPN and its many channels will be broadcasting (more than) 24 hours of college basketball in a row to begin the 2015-’16 season. This will be the eighth year of the tip off marathon and ESPN, and at first glance it looks like one of the best lineups (if not the best lineup) ESPN has put out there yet.
Obviously with the marathon lasting from 5:30 p.m. Eastern on Monday into early Wednesday morning, one won’t be able to stay up for all the games. Here, then, is a helpful ranking of the 15 men’s games in the marathon to help you prioritize when you should get some sleep.
1. Duke vs Kentucky – Tuesday, 7:30 pm, ESPN
Two teams that look like final four contenders meet in Chicago to open up the Champions Classic. The game will be heavy on elite freshmen with Brandon Ingram, Luke Kennard, Jamaal Murray, and Skal Labissiere, but there will also be some more veteran players to keep your eye on as well, specifically Kentucky point guard Tyler Ulis, who I think could sneak onto an All American team this season. Kentucky looks like they’ll have the experience edge over Duke early (what a weird sentence to type) so they should take it home.
2. Kansas vs Michigan State – Tuesday, 10 pm, ESPN
The finale of both the Champions Classic and the Marathon, Kansas and Michigan State could be a potential final four preview as well. The Jayhawks have a pair of All American candidates, while the Spartans return Denzel Valentine, but need to replace both Branden Dawson and Travis Trice. Again thanks to the experience edge, the Jayhawks look like the favorites in this one.
3. Georgetown at Maryland – Tuesday, 9 pm, ESPN2
This will be one of the least watched games of the marathon thanks to the Champions Classic, but you really should watch. Maryland will probably be the preseason #1 team (although they shouldn’t be – more on that later) while Georgetown could be a top 15 team come March. We’ll see how the old guard at Maryland can blend with transfer Robert Carter Jr and blue chip recruit Diamond Stone, and we’ll get to see D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera begin a potential Big East player of the year campaign for the Hoyas.
4. San Diego State at Utah – Monday, 9:30 pm, ESPN2
Delon Wright is gone, but the Utes return sophomore Jakob Poeltl, who I think is going to have a tremendous season that sees him becoming a top 10 pick next June. He’ll face a tough test in Skylar Spencer, who finished 2015 ranked 7th nationally in block percentage. The Aztecs, meanwhile, have been one of the best defensive teams in the country the last couple seasons, but have struggled mightily to score. This one won’t feature a lot of points, but don’t let that stop you from appreciating two well coached teams.
5. Oklahoma at Memphis, Tuesday, 5 pm, ESPN
This might be the end of the road for Josh Pastner at Memphis, but the Tigers should have enough talent to at least give the Sooners a bit of a test. Meanwhile, Oklahoma wants another run in the NCAA tournament, and has the talent tot do so. Buddy Hield returns as defending Big 12 player of the year, but I will be more interested to see how the Sooners’ defense can cope without Tashawn Thomas manning the middle.
6. Stephen F Austin at Northern Iowa – Tuesday, 8 am, ESPN2
We have already covered how Stephen F Austin is the prohibitive Southland favorite, but a win at Northern Iowa will provide a nice resume boost (even though the Panthers won’t be as good as they were last season) that could improve the Lumberjacks seed next March. The Panthers have to replace Seth Tuttle and Marvin Singleton, so the early season figures to be a bit slow in Cedar Rapids, but Ben Jacobson has proven to be one of the better coaches in the country, so bet on Northern Iowa figuring things out. A home win over the Lumberjacks could provide a huge resume boost come March.
7. Valparaiso at Rhode Island – Tuesday, 10 am, ESPN2
Valpo is the heavy Horizon League favorite this season, with the Crusaders returning almost everyone from last season’s NCAA tournament team. This could be coach Bryce Drew’s last season at the school, as he has certainly earned a step up. Rhode Island, meanwhile, had one of the quieter 20 win seasons in the country last year and also finished 9th defensively in the entire country. Hassan Martin has turned into one of my favorite mid major players in the country, as the junior shot 60 percent on twos and finished 15th in block percentage last year.
8. Baylor at Oregon – Monday, 11:30 pm, ESPN2
Baylor is one of my sleepers nationally this year. The Bears return a potential Big 12 player of the year candidate in Rico Gathers, a potential all-conference selection in Taurean Prince, and for all of his faults, Scott Drew gets guys to play hard for him. Oregon, meanwhile, has to cope without Joe Young, but there is enough talent on the roster for the Ducks to make another NCAA tournament. In particular watch for Dwayne Benjamin, who was the Ducks best rebounder and also shot 37 percent on 3-pointers.
9. Kennesaw State at LSU – Monday, 9 pm, ESPNU
This one is simple: I just want to watch Ben Simmons.
10. Virginia at George Washington – Monday, 7:30 pm, ESPN2
The Cavaliers figure to be a heavy Final Four favorite, so even though this one will be a blow out it will be the first national audience for an elite team. Key to watch will be how Virginia’s offense copes without Justin Anderson, who left for the NBA. The Cavaliers’ offense struggled last season with him out to injury, but with an offseason to figure things out, I’m not going to bet against Tony Bennett.
11. Alabama at Dayton – Tuesday, 1 pm, ESPN
First year head coach Avery Johnson will have his hands full when his Crimson Tide travel to Dayton to take on one of the more surprising teams of last season. Fighting injuries and suspensions, Dayton nonetheless finished in a tie for second in the Atlantic 10 and made the NCAA tournament despite its tallest player standing just 6-6. This most certainly will be Archie Miller’s last season at the school, as he is the best coach on the market and should have his pick of jobs.
12. Nevada at Hawaii – Tuesday, 4 am, ESPN2
Hawaii might be facing some NCAA discipline, and they have had a weird coaching situation the last couple years, culminating in the hiring of new coach Eran Ganot. The Warriors have a lawsuit pending against former coach Gib Arnold, and no doubt want to just move on. Speaking of low key 20 win seasons, Hawaii went 22-13 last year, but I’m mostly going to watch this game to see scenery shots.
13. Green Bay at East Tennessee State – Tuesday, 6 am, ESPN2
Green Bay won the Horizon League last season, but lost in the conference tournament and missed out on the NCAA tournament. Gone is Kiefer Sykes, who looks like he’ll be getting a shot with the Spurs this season, as well as two other senior starters. It might be a rebuilding year in Green Bay, but they should still be able to handle ETSU, who went just 16-14 last year and finished 5th in the SoCon.
14. BYU at Long Beach State – Tuesday, 1:45 am, ESPN2
No Tyler Haws for the Cougars, which means Kyle Collinsworth will have to carry the load. BYU lost nine players from last year’s team thanks to graduation, transfer, or leaving for missions, so if you like seeing teams try to incorporate basically an entirely new roster, this one’s for you.
15. Colorado at Auburn – Tuesday, 3pm, ESPN
I could not care less about this game, but it will be fun to compare this Auburn roster to the ones after Bruce Pearl’s recruits get to campus.