College hoops tip-off marathon previews and predictions

Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE

We are on the precipice of twenty-four straight hours of college basketball featuring 16 nationally televised games and eight nationally ranked teams. Below is your guide to it all.

West Virginia at No. 19 Gonzaga (Midnight/ESPN)

The first game of the marathon was the most competitive of the bunch a year ago, and that could easily be the case again in 2012. It was in that game against Washington State 12 months ago when Kevin Pangos went from unheard of freshman to national name by burying nine three-pointers.

The 'Zags should have a tougher test this go-round against a West Virginia team that is and will be largely reliant on talented transfers Aaric Murray, Juwan Staten and Matt Humphrey. The Mountaineers also appeared in this event last season, falling at home to Kent State.

The Kennel Club is always one of America's top student sections, but they bring something extra for the tip-off marathon game. This should be a terrific way to get things started.

Prediction: Gonzaga by 6

Davidson at New Mexico (2 a.m./ESPN)

A midnight (local time) game at The Pit? Hell yeah.

Davidson returns pretty much everyone from last year's SoCon championship squad, and has a legitimate shot at being at-large worthy if they can win a couple of games like this. The Lobos, who lost to the same team (Louisville) as the Wildcats in the 2012 West Regional, lost star Drew Gordon but returned their thee-headed backcourt of Kendall Williams, Tony Snell and Hugh Greenwood.

It's hard to pick a favorite here, although the home court (and home time) advantage certainly falls in New Mexico's favor. Still, I'm going with what I think is the superior team at this time.

Prediction: Davidson by 2

Houston Baptist at Hawaii (4 a.m./ESPN)

Ok, here's where things get rough. The Hawaii game is always the only game played where sane people in all areas of the United States (even Hawaii) are asleep, which makes you feel painfully alone and even more ridiculous than at any other point during the marathon. It doesn't help that the game is generally scarcely attended and played by two bad teams.

Pray for humor during this period, intentional or unintentional.

Prediction: Hawaii by 16

Drexel at Rider (6 a.m./ESPN)

The home crowd for the 6 a.m. game usually embraces the event and provides a solid atmosphere. The sun coming up at some point around halftime is also a nice pat on the back for the marathon viewer.

This game has the potential to deliver more excitement than the casual fan might expect. Stony Brook was the preseason favorite in the America East, and Rider destroyed Robert Morris in their season-opener behind St. John's transfer Nurideen Lindsey's 26-point debut.

Prediction: Rider by 4

Northern Illinois at Valparaiso (8 a.m./ESPN)

Valpo is the preseason favorite in the Butler-less Horizon League, while the Huskies lost leading scorer Tim Toler from a team that won just five games in 2011-12.

Don't skip your 8 a.m. class...as long as it's only an hour long.

Prediction: Valparaiso by 24

Harvard at Massachusetts (10 a.m./ESPN)

Now the fun picks back up a little bit. It would have picked back up full throttle (Charlie's Angels 2) had Crimson senior co-captains Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey not been suspended for the season for their roles in the now infamous Harvard cheating scandal. Chazz Williams and company ought to be too much for the visitors.

Prediction: Massachusetts by 10

Temple at Kent State (Noon/ESPN)

Kent State, which upset West Virginia in this event a season ago, comes into the game riding the momentum of a big overtime win over preseason CAA favorite Drexel. A win over Khalif Wyatt and the Owls would garner the attention of top 25 voters across the country. That's a big "would" though...that's what it said (we're all-species friendly with our overused jokes here).

Prediction: Temple by 5

Detroit at St. John's (2 p.m./ESPN)

Detroit won the Horizon tournament and went to the big dance last season, but even if they hadn't, the presence of Ray McCallum Jr. alone makes them worth watching on a Tuesday afternoon. The biggest storyline here, however, is the return of St. John's coach Steve Lavin, who missed virtually all of last season while battling prostate cancer. The Johnnies are once again young, but talented.

Prediction: St. John's by 4

Butler at Xavier (4 p.m./ESPN)

Probably the strangest game of the day in that this is a non-conference game featuring two teams from the same conference. The reason for this oddity is that the game was already scheduled when Butler announced it was making the move to the Atlantic-10 a year ahead of schedule.

This has been predicted by many to be the year Xavier finally finishes in the bottom half of the A-10 standings. Naturally, they came out and hung 117 on Fairleigh Dickinson in their season-opener. They should have a much tougher time both scoring and defending against a team with Rotnei Clarke and Kellen Dunham in its backcourt.

Prediction: Butler by 8

No. 6 Kentucky at No. 1 Baylor (Women's) (6 p.m./ESPN2)

Brittney Griner plays for Baylor, not Kentucky.

Prediction: Baylor by 12

Wichita State at VCU (7 p.m./ESPNU)

It's a shame that they couldn't find a time slot for this one where it wouldn't be competing with a Champions Classic game.

The addition of Oregon transfer Malcolm Armstead should make Wichita State one of Creighton's top challengers in the Missouri Valley. VCU, meanwhile, is hovering just outside both top 25 polls and looking to make an early statement before their trip to the Bahamas for the loaded Battle 4 Atlantis later this month.

Prediction: VCU by 7

No. 7 Kansas vs. No. 22 Michigan State (Champions Classic) (7 p.m./ESPN)

The Spartans suddenly find themselves at the center of an early season debate about their merits following a loss to Connecticut on Friday. A win over the reigning national runners-up would certainly go a long way in silencing the excitable early critics.

While each team has some serious backcourt talent, the battle in the paint between Kansas' Jeff Withey and the Spartan duo of Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne should be awfully fun to watch. Both teams have serious question marks that won't be answered anytime soon, but tonight will definitely be a start.

Prediction: Kansas by 5

Cleveland State or Bowling Green vs. No. 5 Michigan (Preseason NIT) (8 p.m./ESPN2)

We won't know who will face the 5th-ranked Wolverines until after Monday night's game between Cleveland State and Bowling Green (it feels weird talking about this like it's not one big day...which it isn't), but neither should pose a serious challenge to John Beilein's team.

Prediction: Michigan by 11

Lehigh or Robert Morris vs. Pittsburgh (9 p.m./ESPNU)

Hope that it's Lehigh (C.J. McCollum).

Prediction: Pittsburgh by 7

No. 3 Kentucky vs. No. 9 Duke (Champions Classic) (9 p.m./ESPN)

Two top ten teams who don't like each other and who just might be the two most prominent names in the sport squaring off inside the home of this season's Final Four? Not bad for Nov. 13.

There's some buzzing that UK point guard Ryan Harrow is still feeling under the weather and might not play in this game, which would be a shame. Even if Harrow is healthy enough to go, Duke has the superior combination of experience and talent at this point in the season.

This is going to be fun, but I'd love to see it again in about four months.

Prediction: Duke by 7

North Texas or Alabama-Huntsville at Kansas State (10 p.m./ESPN2)

Hope that it's North Texas (Tony Mitchell).

Prediction: Kansas State by 12

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