The most compelling portion of this year's tip-off marathon should be the last four hours.
Jammed into Tuesday's primetime time slot are three of this season's best non-conference matchups: the revival of the Maryland-Georgetown rivalry and the Champions Classic pitting Duke against Kentucky and Kansas against Michigan State.
That trio of games will be must-see TV for college hoops fans, but there are a few quality matchups earlier in the marathon too. Here's a look at eight storylines to watch during this year's marathon:
1. Can Grayson Allen continue his torrid start?
The unlikely hero of last season's national championship game is demonstrating his 16-point onslaught against Wisconsin was no fluke. Allen has racked up 54 points in two games this season, scorching opposing defenders off the dribble when they crowd him and burying threes in their faces when they give him too much space. Those performances were encouraging for a Duke program that lost its four leading scorers from last year's national championship team, but Allen still has a lot to prove. Blitzing minnows Siena and Bryant is one thing. Doing it against an opponent as big and athletic as Kentucky is another. Freshman Isaiah Briscoe should draw the assignment of guarding Allen when the Blue Devils and Wildcats meet in Tuesday's Champion's Classic. His attempts to slow down Allen will be one of the intriguing individual matchups in a game pitting two of college basketball's most dominant programs.
2. Is Michigan State's shorthanded frontcourt up to the challenge?
With forwards Marvin Clark and Gavin Schilling sidelined because of injuries, Michigan State enters its matchup with Kansas shorthanded in the frontcourt. Aside from veteran Matt Costello and McDonald's All-American Deyonta Davis, walk-on Colby Wollenman is the only other player on the Spartans' roster taller than 6-foot-6. Costello and Davis combined for 28 points and 18 rebounds in Michigan State's season-opening rout of Florida Atlantic on Friday, but the Jayhawks' frontcourt should pose a significantly bigger challenge. Skilled 6-foot-8 senior Perry Ellis is a Big 12 player of the year candidate, freshman power forward Carlton Bragg is a promising understudy and Jamari Traylor, Landen Lucas and Hunter Mickelson each are experienced big men who are holding down the center position until Cheick Diallo becomes eligible.
3. Will Georgetown's early woes get worse?
Of all the season-opening upsets that befell high-profile programs over the weekend, Georgetown's double-overtime home loss to Radford may be the most damaging. Not only was it alarming that Georgetown couldn't put away an opponent projected to finish fourth in the Big South this season, the loss also leaves the Hoyas in jeopardy of digging a deep early-season hole. Georgetown's next three opponents are third-ranked Maryland, 17th-ranked Wisconsin and either fifth-ranked Duke or Atlantic 10 power VCU. Thus the Hoyas will have to beat someone good to avoid an 0-4 start and will have to pull at least one upset to start any better than 1-3. For Georgetown to stay competitive against Maryland on Tuesday night, the Hoyas must defend and rebound with more vigilance than they showed against Radford. Too often caught flat-footed or out of position, Georgetown allowed the Highlanders to score too easily in key stretches and to grab 15 offensive rebounds.
4. Can Oregon compete with Baylor despite its injuries?
Oregon's matchup with Baylor has gone from difficult to daunting the past few weeks. Two key injuries have robbed the Ducks of top big man Jordan Bell and starting point guard Dylan Ennis entering a game against a formidable Baylor team that clobbered mid-major darling Stephen F. Austin in its season opener. Ennis' foot injury leaves a leadership void for Oregon and forces unproven pass-first sophomore Casey Benson to fill in at point guard in his absence. Bell's broken foot could be even more critical against Baylor given the size, strength and rebounding prowess of the Bears' frontline. At power forward, the Ducks will start 6-foot-6 Elgin Cook. In place of Bell at center, Oregon will go with 6-foot-10 Chris Boucher, who gives up about 85 pounds to Baylor standout Rico Gathers. The Ducks' advantage in the frontcourt will be their quickness, but rebounding is an especially big concern. Baylor ranked second in the nation in offensive rebounding last season, gobbling up a whopping 41.9 percent of its misses.
5. How far has Utah's Jakob Poeltl come since last year?
When San Diego State edged Utah 53-49 last November, Jakob Poeltl was a non-factor on offense. The 7 footer from Vienna, Austria, showed tantalizing length, mobility and timing on defense in tallying seven blocks and 12 rebounds, but he could barely get a shot off against the Aztecs' smothering interior defense and finished with a mere four points. Poeltl will not be an afterthought Monday evening when Utah and San Diego State meet again in Salt Lake City. With last year's one-man engine Delon Wright in the NBA, the Utes will try to play through Poeltl and small forward Jordan Loveridge as much as possible to initiate their offense. Poeltl packed on 15 pounds of muscle this offseason, perfected a couple of go-to post moves and sought to improve his form at the foul line. The NBA prospect scored 26 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in Utah's season-opening victory over Southern Utah on Friday night.
6. Can Memphis get a perception-changing upset?
Memphis fans used to complain Josh Pastner couldn't get the Tigers beyond the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament. Now those seem like the good old days. One year after poor point guard play and wayward outside shooting doomed Memphis to an 18-14 season, the Tigers appear to be in jeopardy of missing the postseason for a second straight year. Four rotation players including leading scorer and shot blocker Austin Nichols transferred this offseason and point guard Kedren Johnson is hampered by a lingering shoulder injury that sidelined him for Saturday's season opener against Southern Mississippi. Memphis will have a chance to show that all the pessimism surrounding its season is premature on Tuesday when the Tigers host a top-10 Oklahoma team that returns four starters from last year's Sweet 16 run. A strong defensive effort and 28 combined points from forwards Shaq Goodwin and Dedric Lawson were the highlights of Memphis' season-opening win against Southern Mississippi, but the Tigers also surrendered 21 offensive rebounds and shot poorly from the perimeter once again.
7. How will Rhode Island look without its injured star?
The worst image of college basketball's opening weekend was the sight of E.C. Matthews being helped off the floor 10 minutes into Rhode Island's season-opening victory over American. The Rams' leading scorer suffered a season-ending right knee injury when he drove to the hoop, planted in the paint and crumpled to the floor. Matthews' injury lowers expectations for a Rhode Island program that appeared to be poised for a breakthrough season. The Rams returned every key player from a 23-win NIT team and added two potential impact transfers, making them one of the preseason favorites to win the Atlantic 10. Tuesday's matchup with mid-major power Valparaiso will be a good barometer for how dangerous Rhode Island can still be with sharpshooting Vermont transfer Four McGlynn taking Matthews' spot in the starting five. The Crusaders, who return virtually everyone from a 29-win NCAA tournament team, flexed their muscles Sunday by demolishing MAAC favorite Iona in their season opener.
8. Can Virginia pass its first road test?
The last time a top 10 team visited George Washington, Beyonce was still the lead singer in Destiny's Child, Friends was still TV's No. 1 rated sitcom and George W. Bush was just beginning his first term as president. The Colonials will get another chance for the first time in 15 years when sixth-ranked Virginia comes to town on Monday night. George Washington scored only five second-half field goals in a 59-42 loss in Charlottesville last season, but the veteran-laden Colonials should be a stronger team this season. They have NCAA tournament aspirations thanks to the return of standouts Kevin Larsen, Joe McDonald and Patrico Garino and the arrival of Wake Forest transfer Tyler Cavanaugh. Two-time reigning ACC champ Virginia must replace standout wing Justin Anderson this season, but Tennessee transfer Darius Thompson appears capable of filling that void. The junior guard started against Morgan State in the Cavaliers' season opener and had 12 points, six rebounds, four assists and zero turnovers.
PODCAST: The Dagger's college basketball season preview
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