Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
Covering college basketball year-round can, in the months not filled with actual college basketball, turn into a scavenger hunt for interesting topics to write about. We’ve just about hit the nadir of the offseason college hoops news cycle, and trust me, the next month or so could get even worse. Luckily, ESPN came through early this week with a totally awesome diversion – its release of the schedule, ordered in lockstep with the actual succession of games three months from now, for the 2013 24-hour Tip-Off Marathon, which begins at 7:00 PM on November 11. It’s become annual appointment viewing for college basketball dorks, myself humbly included, and the match-ups this year are just as enticing, if not more so, than anything the Mothership has lined up since the event’s christening. Now that I’ve explained the basics, and there’s nothing else to do during this offseason dry spell but anxiously await the start of games this fall, it’s as good a time as any to pick out the Marathon’s very best games, five of them – which will only have the effect of intensifying your craving for the beginning of the season. But hey, I pine for November just as much as you do. With our mutual longing for the upcoming season now recognized, let’s look ahead to one of the year’s best non-conference events. I’ll be waiting, caffeine and sugary comestibles in hand, buttocks planted to padded recliner, cathartically rejoicing after a long offseason spent, well, doing this.
1. Duke vs. Kansas (November 12, 10:00 PM ET, ESPN)
This selection could have been predicted when ESPN released its highly-anticipated Champions Classic duo a long while ago. There are two match-ups to consider here. First, we get two of the most culturally impactful, nationally successful, blueblood-identifiable programs in the country squaring off in a potential Final Four, or even National Championship, preview. These teams are going to be good. The top-ranked freshmen they inherited this season are even better. Duke’s Jabari Parker and Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins are the main attractions — not just of this game, but of the entire college hoops season writ large; both are expected to enjoy wildly successful one-year stints in college, lead their respective teams on deep NCAA Tournament runs and land a spot in the NBA Draft lottery shortly thereafter. That process will get its formal introduction this November, in the second half of the Champion Classic’s cant-miss double-header (which coincides with the finale of the Tip-off Marathon). If you’re limiting your Marathon sampling size to just one game – first things first: I strongly urge you to reconsider – this is the game of choice, no doubt about it. It’s been a long time since college basketball has seen so much freshmen star power this enticing enter its ranks. Watching the very best of it, two generational NBA franchise-changers, going head-to-head during the first month of the season is a treat no fixture on the 2013-14 hoops calendar can possibly hope to live up to. Maybe the Final Four. Other than that? Nah.
2. Kentucky vs. Michigan State (November 12, 7:30 PM ET, ESPN)