College basketball: Top games to look forward to during Tip-Off Marathon
Is there a better way to open up the college basketball season than to sit on the couch and watch roughly 30 straight hours of exciting game action?
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The marathon’s 2016 schedule for the Nov. 14-15 games was released Thursday, and boy, fans are in for a show. Here are the top four men’s basketball matchups that will be part of the season kick-off:
Gonzaga vs. San Diego State – Tuesday, Nov. 15 at midnight ET
After a disappointing loss in the Mountain West Conference tournament finals, San Diego State missed out on March Madness for the first time in eight years last season. So what better way to start paving a path back to the tournament than opening on the road against a reigning Sweet 16 team?
Gonzaga finished with 28 wins last year and came three points short of continuing its unexpected run as a No. 11 seed into the Elite Eight. The Bulldogs’ biggest challenge in 2016-17 will be replacing departed star Domantis Sabonis and his 17.6 points and 11.8 rebounds per game.
The Bulldogs will rely on 7-1 returning senior Przemek Karnowski, coming back from an injury, to lead a physical offense. Gonzaga also adds two transfers in guard Nigel Williams-Goss to help stretch the floor and center Jonathan Williams to provide even more depth and height in the front court.
Enter the Aztecs and their three returning starters and third-ranked defense from last season. SDSU held opponents to just over 60 points per game behind great post play and allowing little second chances on the boards.
Something’s got to give in this clash, and it should be fun to watch it play out.
Oregon vs. Baylor – Tuesday, Nov. 15 at 3:30 p.m. ET
As a No. 1 seed last year, Oregon fell one step short of reaching its first Final Four since its 1939 championship season. Now, it looks to open its Pac-12 defense against a team coming off a disappointing first round exit from last year’s NCAA tournament.
Oregon loses an important leader in forward Elgin Cook but returns a trio of double-digit scorers in Dillon Brooks, Chris Boucher and Tyler Dorsey. Add in the guard combination of highly-rated freshman Payton Pritchard and Dylan Ennis returning from injury, and the Ducks should have a much-improved backcourt to go along with its established talent down low.
Meanwhile, Baylor has a lot of question marks on its roster. The Bears earned the dreaded No. 5 seed and fell to No. 12 Yale to put an early end to their dreams at a tournament run last year and now enter 2016-17 without its top two enforcers down low in Taurean Prince and Rico Gathers.
That’s a lot of production and toughness lost for a team that often relied on the pair’s rebounding ability and physicality.
Both teams enter the season with something to prove. Oregon needs to start strong and show the nation it still belongs in elite company and can take that next step in reaching the Final Four. Baylor wants to get back to the dance for the fourth-straight year and buck its trend of early exits.
That should be a recipe for an entertaining matchup.
Kentucky vs. Michigan State – Tuesday, Nov. 15 at 7 p.m.
Now, it’s time for the main course.
The Wildcats and Spartans tip off the first of two primetime games played at Madison Square Garden to close out the marathon.
As always, John Calipari will have a host of athletic bodies to employ in Kentucky. Isaiah Briscoe will return for his sophomore season and Derek Willis figures to be a key piece of experience off the bench. But, as it is every year in Lexington, the focus will be on the incoming freshmen.
De’Aron Fox, Malik Monk, Wenyen Gabriel. Sacha Killeya-Jones and Edrice Adebayo highlight Kentucky’s incoming class and all figure to be contributors in Calipari’s deep rotation.
On the other side, Michigan State must find a way to replace do-it-all forward Denzel Valentine. Versatile big men always seem to be a feature in Tom Izzo’s offense and it shouldn’t take long for the Spartans to find the next in line.
Both programs have a bevy of new faces primed to become household names and keep these two storied teams in national title talks. Their opener is the coming out party.
Duke vs. Kansas – Tuesday, Nov. 15 at 9:30 p.m.
It doesn’t get better than this.
Duke will open 2016-17 as the steady favorite to bring home a sixth national championship while Kansas doesn’t appear to be too far behind.
The excitement begins with the point guard matchup as Grayson Allen and Frank Mason are two of the most dynamic playmakers and grittiest players in the nation. Seeing them go toe-to-toe on each side of the court will be a spectacle in itself.
Mason and Devonte’ Graham make up one of the country’s top guard combos and should give the Jayhawks an early shot at ending any hopes the Blue Devils have at putting together an pristine nonconference record.
Then, there’s Duke’s top recruiting class led by athletic big man Harry Giles, who has the ability to work inside as well as pick up points beyond the 3-point line.
This is sure to be a top-five matchup that features established veterans, rising stars and two of the best coaches in the game. You can’t ask for anything else on opening night.