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The Dagger: College Basketball Blog

Six storylines to watch during the college basketball marathon

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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ESPN's fourth annual 24-hour college hoops marathon features a handful of matchups worthy of your favorite energy drinks or espresso blends. Here are six storylines to keep an eye on throughout the event, which begins with Washington State at Gonzaga on Monday night and ends with a Preseason NIT game the following night from Stanford.

1. How competitive can Kansas be with Kentucky?

For one of the first times in Bill Self's tenure at Kansas, the Jayhawks will take the floor at a talent disadvantage. Whereas Kentucky adds its usual bevy of talented freshmen to returners Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb and Darius Miller, Kansas has a short bench and a handful of unproven players in key roles. If the trio of forward Thomas Robinson and guards Tyshawn Taylor and Elijah Johnson can spring an upset or even keep Kansas close Tuesday night, that's an early sign the Jayhawks will again be formidable. If Kentucky runs Kansas out of the gym, consider it an omen that the Jayhawks may not be capable of winning an eighth straight Big 12 title this season after losing four starters from last year.

2. Can Aaron Craft and William Buford slow down Florida's guards?

Florida's four talented guards were brilliant in its opener, with veterans Erving Walker and Kenny Boyton, freshman Bradley Beal and Rutgers transfer Mike Rosario combining to score 62 points in a win over Jackson State. That quartet will be tested just a bit more on Tuesday night, however, when the Gators visit Ohio State. Although the Buckeyes miss the ball-hawking presence of graduated wing David Lighty, they have an elite on-ball defender in point guard Aaron Craft and two other solid defensive guards in William Buford and Lenzelle Smith. How effective those guards are in containing Florida's backcourt will go a long way toward deciding what may be the marathon's premier matchup.

3. Does Michigan State have the scoring punch to thwart Coach K's bid for 903?

The lingering question about Michigan State in the wake of Friday night's Carrier Classic is whether the Spartans have enough reliable scorers to be competitive with the nation's top teams. Nineteen offensive boards against North Carolina helped keep Michigan State within striking distance, but it could not mask the Spartans' dismal 30.6 percent shooting or 2-for-20 effort from behind the arc. Although gusty winds and an unusual shooting backdrop surely played a role Friday, Michigan State will not have those excuses against Duke. To keep Mike Krzyzewski tied with Bob Knight at 902 career wins and to avoid falling to 0-2, the Spartans need a more efficient night from Draymond Green and improved shooting from guards Keith Appling, Brandon Wood and Travis Trice.

4. Can Belmont get a signature win at Memphis?

With virtually its entire roster back from last season when it won 30 games and made the NCAA tournament, Belmont has emerged as a popular preseason choice to advance deep into March this year. The Bruins did nothing to discredit those projections in their season opener, taking Duke to the wire before falling 77-76. Belmont's next chance to earn the type of marquee win that would improve its NCAA tournament seeding comes Tuesday against a Memphis team hoping its talented but enigmatic sophomore class will make big strides this season. The Bruins will press Memphis and speed up the tempo as much as possible to take advantage of superior depth, so the key will be whether the youthful Tigers stay patient and make smart decisions with the ball. {YSP:MORE}

5. Is Baylor vulnerable without suspended star Perry Jones?

Although Baylor has dispatched of Texas Southern and Jacksonville State with ease despite the absence of forward Perry Jones, the Bears will step up in class Tuesday afternoon when San Diego State visits Waco. The Aztecs lack the formidable frontline that led them to a top 10 ranking and a Sweet 16 appearance a year ago, but the outside shooting of their guards could spell trouble for Baylor's sometimes soft 2-3 zone. Lone returning starter Chase Tapley is a smooth scorer and formidable defender. Explosive sophomore Jamaal Franklin scored 31 points Sunday against UC Davis and showcased an improved jump shot by sinking 4 of 7 three-pointers. And the best shooter on the team, guard James Rahon, will travel to Waco after sitting out the Aztecs' first three games with a foot injury. He is a game-time decision Tuesday.

6. Can Northern Iowa extend the Missouri Valley's early hot streak?

The most successful conference during the opening weekend of the season was undeniably the Missouri Valley, which took some early strides toward earning multiple NCAA tournament bids for the first time since 2006. Missouri State won handily at WAC favorite Nevada. Evansville defeated Butler in overtime. Northern Iowa dismantled Old Dominion on the road. And all of those teams are expected to finish behind Creighton, Wichita State and Indiana State in the league race this season. Northern Iowa can continue the Missouri Valley's hot streak late Monday night at Saint Mary's, but this matchup of 2010 NCAA tournament darlings figures to be closely contested. The combination of guard Matthew Dellavedova and frontcourt stalwarts Rob Jones, Mitchell Young and Kyle Rowley make Saint Mary's a threat once again to dethrone Gonzaga in the WCC.

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