Five reasons to get excited about Midnight Madness tonight

Great news for basketball junkies and college football fans whose teams have all but been eliminated from bowl contention already: The official start of college hoops season has finally arrived!

Midnight Madness-style events will take place across the country Friday night, from Big Blue Madness at Kentucky, to Countdown to Craziness at Duke, to Late Night in the Phog at Kansas. Here's a look at five reasons to get excited about tonight's festivities:

1. RING NIGHT IN DURHAM: In a 10-minute ceremony that should be the highlight of "Countdown to Craziness," Duke will raise its 2009-10 national championship banner and award members of last year's team with their championship rings. Michigan State will also hang Tom Izzo's sixth Final Four banner tonight in East Lansing and West Virginia will do the same in Morgantown. As for national runner-up Butler, Friday's season-opening practice is closed to the public. Brad Stevens is clearly more interested in March Madness than Midnight Madness.

2. THE RECRUITS: As fun as Midnight Madness is for fans and players, its true purpose is often to sell top recruits on the program. Therefore, this is one of the biggest recruiting weekends of the year, with dozens of top prospects on campus at various marquee schools to watch the festivities firsthand. It's tough to spotlight any one program, but Kansas, St. John's, Duke and Memphis are among those that appear to have a lot riding on Friday's events. Here's a full list from of where all the top recruits are going to be.

3. DUNK CONTESTS: Yes, they're trite and yes, every school has one at Midnight Madness, but who doesn't love a good dunk contest? There are plenty of creative, super-athletic dunkers in college basketball this season, but Dayton's Chris Wright, Michigan State's Durrell Summers and Duke's Miles and Mason Plumlee are some of the guys that will probably put on the best show. For those who can't be in Dayton, East Lansing or Durham tonight, let's hope that those clips show up on YouTube this weekend.

4. MUSICAL CAMEOS: Live music and Midnight Madness is a natural fit, but as my colleague Matt Norlander covered, this year's lineup is especially memorable. Memphis native Yo Gotti will be a special guest at Memphis Madness, Naughty by Nature will be performing at Syracuse and DC rapper Wale plans to take the stage at Georgetown. But the biggest performance? That's at Northwestern of all places. Snoop Dogg and Kid Cudi will perform in conjunction to the Wildcats' Midnight Madness event, prompting school officials to dub it "Hoops and Snoop."

5. TOM IZZO'S COSTUME: The Michigan State coach typically embraces Midnight Madness silliness more than most, from his entrance on horseback in 2003, to his 300-style Spartan warrior get-up in 2007 to his hippie costume in 2008. There's rumors that this year's theme at Michigan State will have something to do with outer space since Houston is the host city for the 2011 Final Four. Does anyone else feel a Buzz Lightyear costume coming on?

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