College basketball finally got its act together, with preseason tournament grandfathering having expired to help create a "true" opening day this past Friday. That said, hoops junkies nationwide always have their eyes pointed to a second, de facto opening day, ESPN's annual 24-Hour Marathon on Tuesday. It's like March come to November, which is never, ever a bad thing.
Even though this year's slate feels a little lighter in overall quality than past years, there's still plenty to watch. Here are quick breakdowns of the five best games ... and what you can do with the 12-hour gap in the middle.
This is a rematch of last year's NCAA tournament Round of 64 encounter in Pittsburgh, which the Bulldogs impressively won by 23. The game was all but over at the half (40-22 Zags) and Gonzaga ended up shooting 56 percent for the game. Now they meet again in Spokane, a difficult place to play for any team, but some different faces could end up making this a better ballgame.
Gonzaga is almost entirely intact from last year's version. Seven-footer Robert Sacre is gone from the middle, but his replacement, freshman Przemek Karnowski, had 22 points in 20 minutes in his college debut Friday against Southern Utah. With all due respect to the Thunderbirds, La Salle transfer Aaric Murray (in addition to returnee Deniz Kilicli) will be a lot more for Karnowski and Co. to handle inside.
The perimeter duel is different, too, with Dayton (by way of Penn State) transfer Juwan Staten replacing Truck Bryant as WVU's backcourt leader. How he's able to operate against sophomores Gary Bell and Kevin Pangos will be a big story for the road team.
You hate talking at-large chances in mid-November, but when one team comes from the Southern Conference (and missed the NCAAs a few years ago after going 16-0 in conference play) and the other is picked to come in third in what's usually a conference that gets no more than that, then this game has a lot of early meaning.
It's also a really compelling matchup. New Mexico is more perimeter-oriented than last season without Drew Gordon and A.J. Hardeman and the Lobos draw a mid-major that actually has legitimate, quality size in Jake Cohen and De'Mon Brooks. Will the Wildcats be able to muzzle perimeter talent like the Lobos' Tony Snell and Hugh Greenwood?
Davidson has a good amount of experience on its roster and has claimed some impressive wins with this core, including a quasi-road win against Kansas last season. It won't be taken aback by the atmosphere at The Pit. Given New Mexico's other premium nonconference games are on the road (Saint Louis and Cincinnati), this smells like a important get for both teams.
Sleep, be grateful that your kids are back to school after a Monday holiday, get some work done, take a nap to refresh and jump on social media so you can be "informed" as to what's happened since you last checked in. In prior years, there was usually a sneaky game or two to stir you out of bed in the morning or make you look for an extended lunch spot early afternoon. This year, no such luck.
The quick rundown ... Houston Baptist has started 2-0 after accepting a move to the Southland for 2013-14 and the Huskies have gotten a week in Hawaii plus a national showcase (for whomever is up at 4:00 a.m. ET). All in all, not a bad deal at all ... Rider has come to "own" the 6:00 a.m. slot in the marathon, but hosting a Stony Brook team that lost three key pieces from last season doesn't get the juices flowing at that hour ... Northern Illinois lost to D-I newbie Nebraska-Omaha in its opener. Now we expect the Huskies to win at Horizon League favorite Valpo? Er, no. ... Harvard-UMass was set to be an under-the-radar matchup of possible top-50 teams until an Intro to Congress class scandal cost the Crimson two of their best players for the season. ... Temple at Kent State has the Golden Flashes looking to go 2-0 against Philly, having already topped Drexel in the opener. Sort of a lose-lose game for the Owls, who will be able to shed these kinds of games after they re-admit to the Big East next season ... Detroit at St. John's? Ohhhh, baby. It's where Dickie V used to coach, baby! Against the team now run by his guy, Steve Lavin, baby! Should be a competitive game, but doesn't do much for the casual viewer.
Now we're talking. I'm more intrigued by this game than I am either of the Champions Classic matchups, as all four of those premier teams will have countless national TV games and all are various levels of work-in-progress.
Xavier will classify for that category as well, as the X-Men lost their backcourt from last season as Tu Holloway exhausted his eligibility and Mark Lyons exhausted people's patience and transferred to Arizona for his final season. Throw in losing Dez Wells after he was expelled for an incident that the NCAA deemed not worthy of making him sit out a year after transferring to Maryland, and there's a lot of new faces. The Musketeers crushed Fairleigh Dickinson in their opener, but this is many steps up.
Butler's problem last season was that it couldn't shoot from the perimeter. Like, at all. That seems to have been solved many times over between the arrival of Arkansas transfer Rotnei Clarke and freshman Kellen Dunham, who combined for 38 points in the Bulldogs' season opener. If they continue to shoot like that, bigs Khyle Marshall and Andrew Smith should have more room to operate and the overall offense will be more balanced and efficient. This environment will be the first test of that theory.
Throw in that this is a rarely-seen nonconference game between two conference rivals, thanks to Butler's quick move to the Atlantic 10 for this season, and there's much reason to watch.
When the Champions Classic was announced, I loved the idea and hated the execution. It's such a waste to have these premier programs play each other in the second game of the season. Teams are still evolving and what we see now will have no bearing at all on what we'll see in January, let alone March.
This game is a prime example of that disappointment. Michigan State is coming off a sloppy opener against UConn in Germany. Oh yeah, did I mention that Michigan State
Twenty years after the Laettner Shot is a fun hook for this matchup of the bluest of blueblood programs, but we most likely won't see that kind of offensive elegance in this one. Against Maryland in its opener, Kentucky looked like what it is: a bunch of freshmen who aren't nearly as good as last year's freshmen with some good-value transfers. They were ravaged on the glass by Maryland and needed a former walk-on guard to save them. That's, um, not sustainable, but that's not the master plan, either.
On this night, Duke's experienced bigs may be too much for the Cats. If Alex Len went off on them, then Mason Plumlee (inside) and Ryan Kelly (more outside) should be licking their chops. Can Kentucky's young guards hurt the Devils where they're most exploitable: on the perimeter? It will be an interesting test for both teams, and both likely will leave with more questions than answers, as is apt for this time of year.