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ESPN Announces Schedule For 2012 Tip-Off Marathon

Highlighted by a final showdown featuring Duke and Kentucky, ESPN's 2012 Tip-Off Marathon is loaded with games that will excite college basketball fanatics.

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Hide the nerd ropes and cinnamon rolls, we're just four months away from 24 hours of straight college basketball.

Here's this year's gauntlet:

Midnight: West Virginia at Gonzaga
2 a.m.: Davidson at New Mexico
4 a.m.: Houston Baptist at Hawaii
6 a.m.: Stony Brook at Rider
8 a.m.: Northern Illinois at Valparaiso
10 a.m.: Harvard at Massachusetts
12 p.m.: Temple at Kent State
2 p.m.: Detroit at St. John's
4 p.m.: Butler at Xavier
7 p.m.: Michigan State vs. Kansas (Champions Classic, Georgia Dome -- Atlanta)
30 minutes following MSU/KU: Duke vs. Kentucky (Champions Classic)

Casual college basketball fans will probably check out the two Champions Classic battles and then be done with the whole thing, but for hoops junkies this lineup is the gift that keep's giving.

--West Virginia/Gonzaga would be a terrific tilt at any point in the season. The Bulldogs hosting the midnight or 2 a.m. game has become a staple of the marathon, and the kids inside the McCarthey Athletic Center are always extra geared up. A year ago, then-unknown Kevin Pangos went off in the frist game of the marathon and then turned the momentum of that performance into a freshman campaign where he led the Zags in scoring.

--A 2 a.m. game at The Pit? Yeah, I'm not going to have a problem staying up for that. It helps that New Mexico and Davidson were both tournament teams last year.

--Houston Baptist/Hawaii and Stony Brook/Rider are where it's going to get difficult. ESPN should do us all a favor and send the most unintentionally hilarious announcers they have to these games to help us survive. Or just send an irate Digger Phelps to complain the whole time.

--Northern Illinois and Valparaiso have two of the more consistently successful mid-major programs of the past 15 years or so, and the Crusaders will likely enter this season as the favorites in the Horizon League.

--UMass is a sleeper contender in the A-10 and Harvard is the clear favorite to repeat in the Ivy League. It's a game being played on Nov. 13, but that won't make the win look any less impressive on paper come early March.

--Temple and Kent State provide similar quality at the noon matchup. It'll also be the first chance we get to see how announcers handle addressing Khalif Wyatt's offseason escapades.

--Detroit's Ray McCallum Jr. might be the best player you see all day, and St. John's will play a style that's conducive to his talents.

--There's no question that the most intriguing game of the lineup is Butler at Xavier, which is now a non-conference game featuring two teams from the same conference. You don't see that very often.

--Michigan State/Kansas? Yep.

--Kentucky/Duke? Double yep.

Don't forget that this event last year included a game which wound up being a preview of the national championship. Am I saying Northern Illinois and Valpo are going to be duking it out for the title on the first Monday in April? Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying.