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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.