Wichita State-Memphis among most intriguing Tip-Off Marathon matchups
The Tip-Off Marathon in November involves 34 teams and will run from a 7 p.m. ET start on Nov. 17 to the end of the Texas Tech-LSU nightcap on Nov. 18. As only the insomniacs and obsessors will stay awake to watch it all, here are five must-see games, listed in chronological order:
Miami at Florida
It's an intrastate reload vs. reload. The Gators lost their top four scorers and must rely on the promise of forward Dorian Finney-Smith (8.7 ppg as the SEC Sixth Man of the year), guard Kasey Hill (5.5 ppg) and touted forward Chris Walker. Miami, meanwhile, gets transfers Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan eligible after a ho-hum 17-16 season. Although it's an early game, it will imbue the winner with confidence that it is on the right track.
The Bruce Pearl show goes on the road early in the season. If you're going to brew a pot of coffee at any point in the marathon, this 1 a.m. ET tip-off could be worth it. Tad Boyle has his top three scorers back, led by 6-foot-10 junior Josh Scott (14.1 ppg). Even if Auburn is in a rebuilding mode after an 49-75 record over the last four years, Pearl's presence will draw attention to the matchup. It's up to the more talented Buffaloes to take advantage of that with an emphatic effort before a captive (if drowsy) audience.
Wichita State vs. Memphis (in Sioux Falls, S.D.)
The Shockers, which followed a Final Four berth in 2013 with a 35-0 start to 2014, face off against the Tigers, which have averaged 26.5 wins per season under Josh Pastner. Wichita State's Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker again should be among the best backcourt duos in the nation, and they'll have an early opportunity here to demonstrate how they'll compensate for the loss of Cleanthony Early. Memphis, meanwhile, has to reload a bit behind Shaq Goodwin (11.5 ppg. 6.5 rpg). The environment will be unfamiliar and more or less non-partisan – Sioux Falls is a seven-plus hour drive from Wichita and almost double that from Memphis. It may be the most intriguing matchup of the marathon.
Michigan State vs. Duke
The Spartans return Branden Dawson (11.2 ppg, 8.3 rpg) and a bunch of secondary players like Denzel Valentine who must become more reliable producers. Tom Izzo's crew could contend for a Big Ten title if things fall just so. But this is more about an early look at a refurbished Duke led by consensus No. 1 recruit Jahlil Okafor. Both teams will benefit from experience as the season wears on, and this showcase game could provide a nice baseline for that improvement.
The clash of talent is irresistible. A November game between these teams is important, but it isn't decisive. Still, it'll be exciting to watch newcomer Devonte Graham likely running the show for the Jayhawks and looking for fellow stud freshmen Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre. Kentucky meanwhile will have nearly two full teams of McDonald's All-Americans on its roster. The new freshman class is led by top-20 recruit towers Karl Towns and Trey Lyles. No one ought to jump to any conclusions about either team after this game. But it'll be very intriguing to see which program is closer to optimal performance after another roster overhaul.