- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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For the college basketball fan, there aren't many glorious July days, but this one definitely counts: the release of the 2012 ESPN Tip-Off Marathon schedule, set to take place for all 24 hours (and then some) on Tuesday, Nov. 13. I think you're going to like what's being offered.
First things first. The games are as follows (all times ET):
Midnight: West Virginia at Gonzaga
2 a.m.: Davidson at New Mexico
4 a.m.: Houston Baptist at Hawaii
6 a.m.: Stony Brook at Rider
8 a.m.: Northern Illinois at Valparaiso
10 a.m.: Harvard at Massachusetts
12 p.m.: Temple at Kent State
2 p.m.: Detroit at St. John’s
4 p.m.: Butler at Xavier
7 p.m.: Michigan State vs. Kansas (Champions Classic, Georgia Dome, Atlanta)
30 minutes following MSU/KU: Duke vs. Kentucky (Champions Classic)
Here's the thing: If you're a casual college basketball fan, someone who doesn't spend all summer reading College Basketball Nation in heated anticipation of posts like these, you might be somewhat nonplussed.
Davidson at New Mexico might not do anything for you. Harvard at UMass might not tickle your fancy. I get that. But for the college hoops fan -- the kind who knows how cool it will be to see a midnight game at New Mexico's Pit, the kind who recognizes UMass as a sleeper A-10 contender in 2012-13, the kind who knows how good Detroit guard Ray McCallum Jr. is, the kind who realizes what a tough early road test Kent State will be for Temple -- that schedule has a little bit of everything.
Although the Mountaineers-Zags NCAA tourney rematch is a tantalizing opener, the real showstoppers come late in the day. Butler-Xavier is a strange game, considering Butler's early realignment move to the Atlantic 10 this season. The two will actually be playing a nonconference game in the first week of the season before meeting again during league play. You don't see that often. If the basketball gods shine upon us, this will be the game that truly kicks off a heated Midwestern rivalry between two marquee March programs. They've had some good battles in the recent past -- no reason for that to stop now.
And of course, the Champions Classic, now in its second year, is just going to be flat-out awesome: Michigan State will play Kansas just four days (four days!) after opening its season against Connecticut at a U.S. military base in Germany. Last season, the Spartans flew from the Carrier Classic in San Diego to Madison Square Garden four days later. This year, they'll be making a trip from Germany to Georgia in roughly the same time. If Tom Izzo could schedule a game at the International Space Station, he would. The dude will literally play anybody anywhere.
Then there's Duke versus Kentucky. Two bluebloods. Two powerhouses. Two larger-than-life coaches. One unlikely but very deeply felt rivalry. It exists for one reason: March 28, 1992. It's something you notice as a college hoops writer: Both teams' fan bases go out of their way to tweak each other. They are in many ways cultural and basketball antitheses. There is real hate here.
With all this sturm und drang on both sides -- the trolling of opposition message boards is my personal favorite -- it's easy to forget that these two teams don't play, like, ever. The last time they met was Dec. 18, 2001, over a decade ago, at the Jimmy V Classic in New Jersey. Kentucky had Tayshaun Prince and Keith Bogans; Duke had Jason Williams, Mike Dunleavy, Carlos Boozer, Chris Duhon, Dahntay Jones and future Barack Obama body man Reggie Love. The Blue Devils won 95-92 in an overtime classic.
Despite the huge gap in actual basketball competition, Duke and UK fans have only increased their mutual distaste in the Internet age. The run-up to the game -- not to mention the split Georgia Dome -- is going to be certifiably insane.
And there you have it: The early portions of the marathon may not do much for neophytes, but the hard-core fans will have plenty to chew on ... just before the final three games of the evening (hopefully) blow us away. I can't wait to live blog this thing for too many hours. More than anything, I can't wait for basketball. Only a few more months now. Consider that your new mantra.