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Monday, November 15, 2010
20 questions for the Tip-Off Marathon

By Andy Katz
ESPN.com

The 2010-11 college basketball season started last Monday with a handful of games. The intrigue continued through the week and into the weekend with a few upsets, plenty of quality performances (notably by first-year players) and a host of coaching debuts -- quality wins for some, duds for others.

If you weren't paying attention during this busy time on the sports calendar, you are excused. But starting at midnight ET Monday, it will be hard to ignore the sport of college basketball as the ESPN family of networks inundates the college hoops fan with a plethora of games, storylines and names to remember throughout the season. All told, there will be 21 games in 17 states throughout the country throughout the day.

To get you properly prepared for the all-day marathon, here are 20 questions and thoughts on some of the teams taking part in the event (all times ET):

1. What did we learn about Michigan State in its opener? Kalin Lucas' ruptured Achilles is a nonissue so far. Lucas scored 18 points in 26 minutes with 6 assists and 2 turnovers in a 96-66 season-opening win over Eastern Michigan. But MSU's game against South Carolina on Tuesday (10 p.m., ESPN) will offer some intrigue. Gamecocks coach Darrin Horn raved about Devan Downey replacement Bruce Ellington at the point on SEC media day. The freshman started his career with a rough shooting night (3-of-11) but had seven assists and just one turnover in the opening win over Elon. How Ellington handles the elder statesman in Lucas should be interesting on both sides. Meanwhile, Michigan State got an efficient, albeit foul-plagued (four), debut from freshman forward Adreian Payne. He played 14 minutes off the bench, produced 7 boards and scored 10 points. He'll need to be on his A-game to help Delvon Roe defend the Gamecocks' Sam Muldrow, who put up 20 points against Elon.

Steven Gray
Steven Gray and the Zags will tussle with San Diego State in a matchup of conference favorites.

2. What's the difference with Gonzaga? Well, if Steven Gray is finally living up to being a big-time shooter, the Zags might not need to worry as much about the loss of Matt Bouldin. Gray, who is Gonzaga's only senior, scored 25 points and made 5 of 8 3s in a season-opening win over Southern. Gray made 51 3s in each of the past two seasons, but his 3-point shooting percentage wasn't above 35 percent in either one. How San Diego State's length defends Gray on Tuesday (11 p.m., ESPN2) will set a barometer for him throughout the season.

3. What did San Diego State show in a season-opening road win at Long Beach State? Well, for starters, it's proving to be a tough road team. The Aztecs need to perform well on the road at the start of the season in particular, as they begin with five straight games away from home. The Aztecs beat The Beach in front of a sellout crowd, something they had better get used to on the road as a ranked team. San Diego State also put its game into second gear after taking a tie game at 42 and running off to an 81-65 win. The Aztecs won't play in many nationally televised games, and that's why it should be required watching for an avid fan to catch a glimpse of Kawhi Leonard, who started the season with 21 points and 12 rebounds.

4. What is the biggest question for Florida? The offseason issue was 3-point shooting. One game doesn't produce an answer, but the first indicator wasn't strong. Florida was 6-of-19 on 3s, and those numbers were against UNC Wilmington. Expect Ohio State's guards to get in the Gators' grille in a Marathon game (6 p.m., ESPN) that matches two teams projected as potential Final Four contenders.

5. What's the name of Ohio State's other star freshman? Well, we'd all better get to know Deshaun Thomas. He led the Buckeyes in scoring in a win over North Carolina A&T with 24 points and 8 boards in just 20 minutes, making a highly productive 10 shots of 16. So much was made about the impact of Jared Sullinger, and rightfully so. He produced 19 points and 14 boards in 20 minutes. Point guard Aaron Craft was also a hit with nine assists and no turnovers before fouling out. But if Thomas is this much of a stud off the bench, the dynamic will change for the Buckeyes even more in the Big Ten.

6. How ticked is Kansas State coach Frank Martin at Curtis Kelly? Well, he didn't play him in the season-opening win over James Madison, and who knows whether the forward will get a serious look against Virginia Tech on Tuesday (4 p.m., ESPN)? Martin said after the game, "He's practicing every day. You saw him in on the bench. I'm just not in the mood to play him the way he's practicing." Kelly is a senior and was a presumed frontcourt leader, but that's apparently not the case at this point. Freddy Asprilla got the start and didn't do much in 17 minutes (2 boards, 1 block, no points and 3 fouls). Kelly averaged 11 points and 6 boards last season, and one would think he could match that effort if he's willing to put forth the work Martin demands.

7. How many minutes will Virginia Tech's forwards play? Injuries and an inexperienced bench mean the three starters -- Jeff Allen, Terrell Bell and Victor Davila -- will log plenty of time on the court. They all played more than 30 minutes each (Bell played 36) in the opening win over Campbell. Virginia Tech lost J.T. Thompson for the season, and Cadarian Raines is still recovering from a broken foot. But the Hokies had a monster outing from Allen with 11 points, 14 boards and 4 blocks, and Bell produced 17 points and 8 boards. Davila didn't score and fouled out in 30 minutes. Handling the road atmosphere at K-State will be tough enough without much depth and a tired frontcourt.

8. Which Tuesday matchup isn't getting enough play? Forget about the distractions with Baylor's suspended guards, LaceDarius Dunn and A.J. Walton. (Walton will be back after a one-game sitdown, and Dunn has two more.) The story of the game against La Salle (2 p.m., ESPN) might be how 6-foot-10 Bears forward Perry Jones handles the Explorers' 6-10 Aaric Murray. Jones had a rather subdued debut in a win over Grambling State, scoring 11 points and grabbing eight boards but committing seven turnovers. He had preseason hype and gets more of an NBA scout following. But Murray is certainly starting to build a flock, as well. He scored 19 points and grabbed 8 boards (with four turnovers) and 4 blocks in a season-opening win over Columbia.

9. Who should be the best player on the court when Butler opens Louisville's new Yum Center? It should be junior guard Shelvin Mack -- without hesitation. Mack doesn't get the headlines, but he should have been a strong contender for a first-team All-American spot in the preseason. Ask any coach who has faced Butler or ask USA national team coach Mike Krzyzewski, who saw Mack during workouts with the U.S. select team; those coaches will profess that Mack is one of the top guards in the country. Mack's numbers in the opener against an NAIA team (Marian) aren't a strong indicator -- though he still scored 20. How he handles Louisville's pressure and the atmosphere Tuesday night (8 p.m., ESPN) will be a barometer.

10. Who is the consensus preseason player of the year? Well, if you look on ESPN.com, everyone agreed on Duke senior Kyle Singler. Playing Princeton on Sunday (he scored 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting), then Miami (Ohio) on Tuesday (7:30 p.m., ESPNU) will show his versatility as the Blue Devils deal with another team that loves to control the tempo and slow things down. If you remember, Charlie Coles' RedHawks team took Kentucky all the way to the buzzer early last season at Rupp Arena.

Tobias Harris
Tuesday will be America's first chance to see Tennessee's highly touted recruit, Tobias Harris.

11. Which freshman got lost amid a scandal that had nothing to do with him? Tennessee's Tobias Harris was completely overshadowed in the preseason by the NCAA violations at Tennessee and the admission by coach Bruce Pearl that he misled investigators. Then, a loss to Division II team Indianapolis in an exhibition game meant the Vols were questioned again. But the real season began with an easy win over Chattanooga and a stellar effort from Harris (18 points and five boards, and he made his only 3-pointer). Harris should be primed for another breakout performance against Belmont on Tuesday night (9:30 p.m., ESPNU) in the NIT Season Tip-Off.

12. Which Big East team is starting out with unexpected controversy? Villanova. The Wildcats took a blow when freshman forward JayVaughn Pinkston was charged with two counts of simple assault and harassment after an off-campus altercation. Pinkston didn't play in the season-opening win over Bucknell and isn't expected to play against Marist (5:30 p.m., ESPNU) in the NIT Season Tip-Off. The Wildcats won't need him to beat the Red Foxes, but losing Pinkston will hurt their frontcourt depth for the foreseeable future.

13. How can a team be facing a must-win on Nov. 16? That might be a bit of a stretch, but no coach needs a win more than Tulsa's Doug Wojcik after a disappointing 89-86 home loss to Appalachian State in the season opener. The Golden Hurricane still fancy themselves a Conference USA contender, even after losing Jerome Jordan and missing out on the NCAA tournament last season amid high expectations. Hosting crosstown rival Oral Roberts (noon, ESPN) means there will be even more focus on this lunchtime affair. Wojcik could use a confidence boost for this squad -- and quickly.

14. Which possible conference player of the year is not well recognized? How about Northeastern's Chaisson Allen in the Colonial Athletic Association? Allen scored 20 points in a 66-64 win over Boston University this past weekend. He'll be on full display at Southern Illinois on Tuesday (10 a.m., ESPN). Allen takes on even more scoring this season with the departure of Matt Janning. The Huskies are rebuilding but have been consistent winners under Bill Coen.

15. Which could be the top backcourt matchup in the Marathon's 25 hours? Don't sleep on the Miami-Memphis perimeter game to start the tipoff tonight (midnight, ESPN). Miami's Malcolm Grant and Durand Scott combined for 43 points and 10 assists in a comeback opening win over Jacksonville. Joe Jackson and Antonio Barton combined for 24 in the Tigers' season-opening win over Centenary. And of course, Antonio's more highly acclaimed brother, Will, won't be quiet for long.

16. Which team has the craziest turnaround in the next 36 hours? St. John's plays at Saint Mary's at 11 p.m. PT (2 a.m. ET, ESPN) on Monday night, but the game will end Tuesday morning. The Red Storm will then fly back at some point Tuesday to New York and host Columbia in Queens at 8 p.m. Wednesday. So from an Eastern Time point of view, the schedule reads "at Saint Mary's in Moraga, Calif., on Nov. 16" and "home against Columbia on Nov. 17." That's an NBA-like turnaround. But no one should be surprised at the site of the debut because new Red Storm coach Steve Lavin is from the Bay Area.

17. Which Sweet 16 team from this past March has had almost no preseason pub? That would be Saint Mary's because the Gaels lost their spokesman and top player, Omar Samhan. But SMC still returns the core of its perimeter in Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova. If there is an intriguing storyline on this Aussie-dominated squad, it is with Rob Jones, who transferred from San Diego and is the grandson of the infamous Peoples Temple founder, Jim Jones. The junior started his Gaels career against NAIA power College of Idaho with 11 points. Jones is hardly Samhan-like, but he could give Saint Mary's some much-needed frontcourt scoring.

18. Who is worth gulping down Red Bull for? One freshman won't get much airtime this season, but you'd better stay up late or get up early. Central Michigan's Trey Zeigler scored 21 points in a loss to Montana State in Honolulu this past weekend. Six-foot-5 Zeigler was a top-50 recruit and is expected to be a star for the Chippewas, so you might want to fight the urge to sleep and watch his game at Hawaii (4 a.m., ESPN).

19. If you can watch one game on ESPN3.com, which should it be? Probably Detroit at Syracuse (7:30 p.m., ESPN3) so you can see the talents of Titans freshman Ray McCallum Jr. going against the freshman studs on the Orange led by Fab Melo, Dion Waiters and C.J. Fair.

20. What are two games that aren't part of the College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon whose scores you still should track? Arizona State at New Mexico and Colorado at Georgia. The Sun Devils are still a threat to finish in the top half of the Pac-10 and have one of the country's better shooters in Rihards Kuksiks. ASU opening at New Mexico is akin to Georgetown going to Old Dominion for its opener -- a rare power-six-conference team opening up on the road against an NCAA tournament team. New Mexico, which beat Detroit by nine points in its opener, is a Mountain West contender again and has one of the top point guards out west in Dairese Gary as well as Tennessee transfer Emmanuel Negedu and soon-to-be eligible UCLA transfer Drew Gordon.

Meanwhile, Georgia barely escaped with a 72-70 win over Mississippi Valley State on Friday without injured preseason SEC player of the year Trey Thompkins. The debut of Gerald Robinson Jr. was at least a positive (19 points). Colorado has two possibly NBA-bound players in Alec Burks and Cory Higgins, who combined for 36 points in a season-opening win over Idaho State. This will be a good test for both teams.

Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.