November marathon gives hoops a big stage
The NCAA has tweaked the "official" opening for the mass of teams over the years. This year's season officially opens on Friday, Nov. 14. But that's technically not the opening of the season. Preconference tournaments like the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic is grand fathered in to the season, meaning there will be tantalizing openers in the days before Nov. 14 like Duke vs. Presbyterian.
The Hall of Fame used to produce the Tip-Off Classic but it became a misnomer since it didn't tip off the season.
So, in an attempt to garner more interest with the start of the season, the ESPN family of networks will debut the College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon -- a 24-hour schedule of games on Nov. 18.
None of this was easy to put together. The programming department at ESPN had to work with existing games, tournaments and some previously scheduled games had to be tweaked to come earlier in the season.
The opener of UMass at Memphis following Monday Night Football at 11:59 p.m. ET (11 p.m. local time in Memphis) was a game set up by John Calipari once his assistant Derek Kellogg got the head coaching job at Calipari's former school. This should be an intriguing game for many reasons, notably to see how much UMass plays like Memphis with its dribble-drive-motion style and to see whether the Tigers look like they are able to make another Final Four run. Calipari is banking on newcomers like Roburt Sallie and Tyreke Evans to complement returnees Robert Dozier and Antonio Anderson to make Memphis a national title threat again.
Saint Mary's hosts Fresno State at 2 a.m ET. This will be a critical game for the Gaels, who held on to Australian backup point guard Patty Mills. They get a chance to showcase their team (even at the midnight hour) and potentially create some buzz. The Gaels also will need some momentum going into the Anaheim Classic with Wake Forest, Baylor and Arizona State headlining that event.
Idaho State plays at Hawaii and the Rainbows get a shot to give some pub to JC transfer Roderick Flemings, who is expected to be their marquee player. That game tips off at 4 a.m. ET.
Penn and Drexel play at 10 a.m. ET in one of the better Philly rivalries. The schools can walk to each other's gym since they are a block apart.
Liberty at UNC Asheville is the national debut at noon ET of Stephen Curry's younger brother Seth. But the matchup lost luster when Asheville's center Kenny George was shelved for the season with a serious foot injury.
Following a women's game between Iowa and Kansas at 2 ET, Baylor should walk over Centenary at 4 p.m. The Bears are a legitimate top 25 team and coach Scott Drew does think his team can challenge for the Big 12 title.Syracuse hosts Richmond in a CBE Classic game in which the Orange get a chance to show guards Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins are healthy after both suffered ACL injuries last season. Richmond coach Chris Mooney firmly believes the Spiders will challenge for the A-10 title. The NIT regional from Purdue should be the Boilermakers against Georgia, assuming the Bulldogs beat Loyola-Chicago and Purdue takes care of Eastern Michigan in the first round. Purdue is taking on a favorite role within the Big Ten this season.
The next NIT regional game, staggered 30 minutes later on ESPN2 after the game from West Lafayette, Ind., should be between Boston College and St. John's from Chestnut Hill. The Eagles are coming off a disappointing finish to last season but have an infusion of new talent to go along with Tyrese Rice. The national debut of Reggie Jackson should be interesting to watch, too, as the Eagles renew a Big East rivalry with the struggling Red Storm. The sleeper here is Cornell, which could upset this matchup if it was to beat St. John's the previous night. BC gets Loyola (Md.) in the first round. Loyola could be trouble, too, since it is expected to challenge for a top-four finish in the MAAC.
The prize of the night is Kentucky at North Carolina at 9 p.m ET. The Tar Heels will be on display for the first time. This series is usually played in December. Kentucky may have wanted it later since the Wildcats will be a work-in-progress with a still recovering Patrick Patterson up front and a number of new pieces to put in play for Billy Gillispie. But Gillispie doesn't duck. And Carolina is the overwhelming favorite. This will be the first chance the nation will see if the consensus No. 1 team is ready to roll through the nonconference. UNC will be on display in the following weeks with a trip to the Maui Invitational and a possible showdown with Texas or Notre Dame and then a monster ACC-Big Ten Challenge game against Michigan State in Detroit at the Ford Field Final Four site.
Kansas, despite being nearly a completely new team, save for Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich, should walk over Florida Gulf Coast on ESPNU at 9 p.m. in a CBE game. Kansas, Syracuse, Washington and Florida are the four host schools in this event that are slated for matchups in Kansas City Thanksgiving week.The last two games in this marathon are from the NIT regional final with Oklahoma likely playing Davidson at 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2 and Arizona probably facing UAB at 11:30 p.m. ET in the nightcap. Assuming OU and Davidson beat Mississippi Valley State and James Madison respectively in the first round, then the key matchup won't be Blake Griffin versus anyone Davidson can muster upfront. Nope. Check out how Davidson's Stephen Curry gets free against Sooners guards Willie Warren, Austin Johnson and Tony Crocker. The Sooners have the depth to cause Curry fits.
Arizona and UAB would have to beat Florida Atlantic and Santa Clara, respectively. If that occurs then Chase Budinger and Robert Vaden could have quite a shootout at the McKale Center. The Blazers can be prolific with Vaden as evidenced last season against Kentucky in Louisville. The Blazers will need the return of a healthy Paul Delaney III at the point to cause problems for Arizona's Nic Wise, too, to have a chance.• Kudos to Maryland's Gary Williams, Connecticut's Jim Calhoun, Syracuse's Jim Boeheim, Penn's Fran Dunphy and Alabama's Mark Gottfried for lobbying congress on behalf of more funding for cancer research. Boeheim and Calhoun both had prostate cancer. Calhoun just completed his second bout of treatment for skin cancer. "It was good, really good to be there,'' Williams said Tuesday night of his day on Capitol Hill. "The National Institute of Health is seeing its budget being cut. That's where a lot of the research is done.'' The five coaches were pushing for congress to pass legislation on regulating tobacco products, too. Williams said it was a tough week to be there and hope to get everyone's ear considering the current financial crisis and pending government bailout of some financial and insurance institutions.
Williams said he couldn't get over how much the politicians were into college basketball. He said the ACC and Big East representatives showed their partisan allegiance toward the respective schools and conferences.
• Williams said 6-foot-4 freshman guard Sean Mosley (St. Frances Academy, Baltimore, Md.) is "for real.'' Williams said he has been very pleased with Mosley's attitude during individual workouts. He said he expects Mosley to produce and have an impact this season. He also added that he expects junior point guard Greivis Vasquez to have a very good year. The one holdout is 6-7 freshman Jin Soo Kim, who finished at South Kent High in Connecticut. Williams said Kim is still awaiting clearance from the NCAA but he is hopeful he'll be cleared by Oct. 1. Kim had his (non-shooting) left shoulder operated on earlier this offseason but Williams doesn't think that would slow him down if he were academically cleared.
• As expected, Ole Miss' workouts will be altered by Friday's first presidential debate. The Rebels will workout Wednesday and then take the rest of the week off. Classes for all students were cancelled for Friday. The campus is being affected with road closures and/or foot traffic being altered by the pending debate between Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).