When the ESPN College Basketball Marathon tips Monday night, we’ll be more than 200 games into the 2016-17 season. Still, over the past nine seasons, the event has become the game’s unofficial grand opening.

For college hoops fans, it’s like taking a trip to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Only, you don’t need a golden ticket to enjoy the ride. Just a cable or internet connection, a comfortable chair and considerable stamina is required to absorb hours of jam-packed action.

 
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Around the clock hoops from across the nation reaches a crescendo when four legitimate national title contenders battle in Madison Square Garden to conclude the festivities Tuesday night.

Here are five reasons we’re excited for this year’s College Basketball Marathon, which begins at 6 p.m. on ESPN2 with a doubleheader featuring four top-15 women’s teams, including four-time defending champion UConn.

A window into this season's future

The marathon features six ranked men’s teams. There are 16 conferences represented and 11 men’s teams that participated in the 2016 NCAA tournament. The men’s opener is a strong one. Princeton and BYU, who meet at 10 p.m. Monday. Both could crack the AP Top 25 and make some noise this season. 

Princeton's senior guard Henry Caruso (21) is back to help lead a team that went 22-7 overall last year.
Steve Mitchell | USA TODAY Sports Images
Princeton's senior guard Henry Caruso (21) is back to help lead a team that went 22-7 overall last year.
Princeton was 22-7 last season, returns everybody and is No. 38 in the Pomeroy Ratings. Henry Caruso (44 percent on 3s last season) and Devin Cannady (46 percent) are dangerous and Hans Brase, a 6-9 forward is back after missing 2015-16 with an injury. Elijah Bryant, the 2014-15 CAA Rookie of the Year at Elon, makes his BYU debut in the backcourt. He’s one of eight newcomers for coach Dave Rose.

Tipping off as the clock strikes 12

San Diego State and Gonzaga meet at midnight. The McCarthey Athletic Center in Spokane, Wash., will be electric when the Zags entertain San Diego State.

Gonzaga welcomes back center Przemek Karnowski, who missed most of last season due to injury.
Kevin Jairaj | USA TODAY Sports Images
Gonzaga welcomes back center Przemek Karnowski, who missed most of last season due to injury.
Gonzaga is the slight favorite in the West Coast Conference (over Saint Mary’s). The Aztecs of SDSU are favored in the Mountain West and aim to return to the NCAA tournament after having their six-year appearance streak snapped last season. Gonzaga’s inside-outside combo of Silas Melson and Przemek Karnowski is dangerous and Nigel Williams-Goss, a transfer from Washington, looks to get on track after a sluggish performance in the Zags’ opening win over Utah Valley.  

San Diego State used its trademark deliberate pace and rugged defense to handle cross-city rival San Diego 69-59 in the opener. Jeremy Hemsley and Trey Kell combined for 48 points, taking 31 of the Aztecs’ 51 shots between them.

Bagels, biscuits or burritos - and basketball

Depending on your morning work schedule, catch either Niagara at Hartford (6:30 a.m.) or Winthrop at Manhattan (8:45 a.m.) before clocking in Tuesday. Capitalize on the one day each year when college basketball joins coffee, bacon and eggs on the breakfast menu. Forego the morning talk shows and focus on mid-major programs who are thrilled to have a national audience watch a game on their home court. This is an all-nighter students will gladly pull.

Chase Arena in Hartford (capacity 3,507) is the site for two teams seeking their first win this season. Keep an eye on Niagara guard Khalil Dukes, a Southern Cal transfer who averaged 14.5 points in the first two games.

Winthrop guard Xavier Cooks will lead the Eagles in an early-morning affair against the Manhattan Jaspers.
Winthrop Athletics
Winthrop guard Xavier Cooks will lead the Eagles in an early-morning affair against the Manhattan Jaspers.
Winthrop has been painfully close to an NCAA tournament bid of late, losing in the conference finals the past three years. The Eagles are the pick to win their 11th Big South championship this season. Watch out for Xavier Cooks, who had an efficient 21 points and 10 rebounds for Winthrop in the season opener.

RELATEDCollege basketball roundup: Duke notches two wins, but Kansas looms

Colors and schemes between Baylor and Oregon

The schools have similar color schemes (green and gold for Baylor; green and yellow for Oregon). And neither is afraid of going neon. There’s also plenty of substance beyond the style.

Baylor Bears guard Manu Lecomte (20) had a double-double (13 points, 10 assists) in the team's opener.
Ray Carlin | USA TODAY Sports Images
Baylor Bears guard Manu Lecomte (20) had a double-double (13 points, 10 assists) in the team's opener.
Scott Drew has constructed an offensive juggernaut at Baylor, steering his squad to a top 20 offense (per KenPom adjusted efficiency) eight of the last nine seasons. Jonathan Motley returns from a one-game suspension to anchor the frontcourt. Manu Lecomte had 13 points and 10 assists in the season opener against Oral Roberts.

The Ducks are loaded and poised to climb at least one step further than last season’s Elite 8 appearance. Unfortunately, forward Dillon Brooks isn’t expected to play as he recovers from offseason foot surgery. But the Ducks are loaded enough to overcome his absence. Tyler Dorsey scored 21 points to lead five players in double figures in the opening night defeat of Army.

Fabulous Freshmen in the Garden

Friday night offered an eyeful of Miles’ Bridges incredible athleticism. The Michigan State freshman put on a dunking exhibition in a 21-point effort against Arizona. His classmate and teammate Nick Ward made a solid debut as well (nine points in 14 minutes).

Mark Zerof | USA TODAY Sports Images
They’ll have their hands full against a Kentucky freshman crop some analysts are calling one of the best ever - DeAaron Fox, Malik Monk, Bam Adebayo and Wenyen Gabriel have already flashed their spectrum of skills. Fox has 33 points and 15 assists in the Wildcats’ opening pair of routs.

Josh Jackson, of Kansas, struggled to nine points on 3 of 11 shooting in a 103-99 overtime loss to Indiana. Expect him to bounce back against Duke, which counters with a talented rookie of its own, Frank Jackson, a 6-3 guard who poured in 39 points on 8 of 15 3-pointers in a strong opening weekend. Unfortunately, the Blue Devils’ three other talented freshmen - Marques Bolden, Harry Giles and Jayson Tatum - will not play as they recover from injuries.