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ESPN College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon roundtable

Which games do we like? Which games do we like slightly less?

NCAA Basketball: Winthrop at Alabama Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN released the schedule for its annual college hoops tip-off marathon last week — just another sign that we are closing in on the start of the season. Now that we’ve had a few days to plan our inevitable 30-hour basketball binges, we thought we’d offer up a few of our thoughts.

What are your general reactions to the announcement and are you a fan of the Tip-Off Marathon in general?

Thomas Beindit: Is there a better way to get people ready for college basketball than literally a day straight of college basketball? I certainly can’t think of a better way. Maybe the day isn’t stacked with perfect matchups from start to finish, but there are always more than enough intriguing games and the primetime matchups are fantastic.

Russell Steinberg: 30 consecutive hours of college basketball? Yes, I’m a fan of that. The overnight games are always rough, but that’s sandwiched by some really intriguing matchups. The one everyone’s going to circle is San Diego State-Gonzaga, and rightfully so. But watch out for Princeton-BYU at 10 p.m. ET. The Tigers haven’t received the love they deserve and this could be a good chance for them to break out. On the other end, Longwood-Stephen F. Austin shouldn’t be a great game, but I am looking forward to seeing what the Lumberjacks look like in the post-Walkup, post-Underwood era. And that serves as a warmup to Dayton-Alabama. The Flyers destroyed Alabama in this game last year, but this time they have to travel to Tuscaloosa.

Chris Schutte: Consuming a large amounts of basketball in a short period of time is always a good thing. Especially at this point in the year when most people are tired of football dominating the sports news cycle, it’s nice to have a change of pace. As far as the games go, everybody will hype up the Champions Classic, as they should, but it’s often the mid-major bouts that provide the most excitement and best moments. There’s a nice combination of marquee names and lesser-known, but talented, teams, so I’m confident the Tip-Off Marathon will have a little something for everyone.

Austin Brown: This is like asking if I’m a fan of oxygen. I love the Tip-Off Marathon. I appreciate teams that are willing to start off the year with a tough test and not just sit around playing D-II schools until conference play. At first glance, there are at least eight games that I think will be interesting.

There are obviously a lot of games to sift through in this event. What do you view as the top mid-major game in this year’s Tip-Off Marathon?

Thomas: Maybe this is an odd pick, but I’m excited to see what happens in the Longwood vs. Stephen F. Austin game. Over the last few years, the Lumberjacks have been a machine in the Southland Conference, but with Brad Underwood departing for Oklahoma State, can the team continue that success? This could be an early answer.

Russell: I’m going to give the nod to San Diego State-Gonzaga, even though (or maybe because) I don’t know what to expect from either team. Gonzaga loses a ton from last year, but Washington transfer Nigel Williams-Goss is finally eligible and Przemek Karnowski will hopefully be healthy. The Aztecs, meanwhile, are moving on without Winston Shepherd, but return a really strong backcourt.

Chris: I’m going to have to agree with Russ on this one. San Diego State-Gonzaga is going to be one worth staying up for. These two teams have been the gold standard as far as mid-major schools go, and both teams should have good chances at NCAA Tournament bids.

Austin: I’m going to go out on a limb here and say Dayton-Alabama. The Flyers absolutely decimated the Tide in this game last year, and Scoochie Smith and Charles Cooke for Dayton make up one of the best backcourts in the country. You know the way they got embarrassed by Syracuse in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament last year has been eating Dayton alive this summer, and I expect that chip on their shoulders to stay there all season.

Are there any sleeper games you’re looking forward to in this year’s Tip-Off Marathon? What game could surprise fans?

Thomas: One game that might not draw a ton of attention nationally (especially since it’s on at 4:15 a.m. ET), but looks intriguing nonetheless is Florida Atlantic and Hawaii. The Rainbow Warriors are coming off a great season and this could be an interesting look at how Hawaii can move on from the Stefan Jankovic era in Honolulu.

Russell: I mentioned it above: Princeton-BYU can be a really great game. The Tigers finished 65th in KenPom last year and bring back almost everybody. BYU had some big wins last year, but lost Kyle Collinsworth and Chase Fischer. I’m also looking forward to how Princeton handles BYU’s uptempo style of play. The Tigers are a very good defensive team, but the Cougars have been able to put up 80-90 points with little effort.

Chris: I’m intrigued by the Winthrop-Manhattan pairing. Winthrop had one of the country’s best offenses last year, and return a lot of talent from last year’s team. Manhattan might not be quite as good as Winthrop, but the Jaspers return three double-digit scorers from last season. If you’re in a need of a morning jolt but aren’t a coffee drinker, this game should provide plenty of points and excitement to get your day going.

Austin: The Stephen F. Austin-Longwood matchup has several interesting angles. I don’t think Longwood will be much improved from last season, but it will be interesting to see if Kyle Keller can pick up where Brad Underwood left off at SFA. The Lumberjacks lost their three leading scorers from last season, including their superman, Thomas Walkup, but also signed three-star point guard Aaron Augustin in the offseason. Look for Augustin along with Ty Charles and T.J. Holyfield to carry the load for SFA.

Maybe this is a bit harsh, but what’s the worst game? The late night can get a bit rough, so which game are you planning to sleep through?

Thomas: Well, neither the Niagara-Hartford or Winthrop-Manhattan games look super intriguing on paper. And predictably, both of these games will be played in the early morning hours on the east coast. Perhaps I’m wrong, but this will probably be the section when I’m hoping to get some sleep.

Russell: Niagara-Hartford in a 6:30 a.m. tip. Without question. These are two bottom-50 Division I programs and they’re going to be playing while most of us are just waking up. Rely on the coffee, not the action, to give you your morning jolt. Bright side: the two schools were almost equally bad last year so….maybe it’ll be a close game?

Chris: To be quite honest, none of the games between 2 and 6:45 intrigue me in the slightest. Staying up for SDSU-Gonzaga will sap most of my energy, so I’ll use the games after that for time to recharge my batteries for the next day. Of course, now that I say this, one of these games will be a triple-OT thriller featuring insane shot-making and #benchmob shenanigans that will make me regret my decision to sleep.

Austin: Green Bay-Pacific. There’s a reason this game is on at 2 a.m. There isn’t a single player on either team that excites me in the slightest. I know ESPN needed something to fill that time slot from 2-4 a.m., but I they could have definitely done better than this.

Who will break onto the national scene due to this event?

Thomas: Maybe he’s already well known to some people, but I think NIgel Williams-Goss is going to make a big splash for Gonzaga in this event. Gonzaga should have plenty of talent in this game, but I think Williams-Goss will make his presence felt.

Russell: This probably has to be someone playing in a game people will be awake to see, right? How about Aaron Augustin, the freshman guard for Stephen F. Austin? He had interest from a bunch of Power 5 schools, but chose the Lumberjacks. This will be his first chance to make a name for himself on the national stage. New coach Kyle Keller made Austin a priority when he was hired, and has said that he believes the freshman “fits the mold” of an SFA point guard.

Chris: If there’s one thing I love in basketball, it’s players that can just get buckets. It’s even better when a player is shorter than I am (5’10”). Winthrop’s Keon Johnson is one of the country’s best diminutive dynamos, and is coming off a season in which he averaged 18.7 points per game. The 5’7 guard will be the catalyst for Winthrop’s high-powered offense, and is my pick to catch some viewers’ eyes with a big scoring total on Wednesday morning.

Austin: Most of the attention for Dayton has rightfully been on Scoochie Smith and Charles Cooke, but don’t sleep on Josh Cunningham. Archie Miller is one of the best in the country at recruiting transfers, and he appears to have hit the jackpot again with Cunningham. The transfer from Bradley played well during Dayton’s Spanish exhibition tour, and he will have a chance to make an impact as the Flyers lost a lot in the front court from last season. This game against Alabama could be his coming out party.