- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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Need a little crash course before the Tip-Off Marathon begins? As every coach worth his whistle would tell you, let's take it one game at a time
The Graveyard Shift
(Consider this your Tip-Off Marathon warm-up/early proving ground. If you can't make it through the early morning hours, how are you going to last until 1:30 a.m. ET on Wednesday morning? The true marathoners among us will just be rounding into shape at 7 a.m. Join us, if you dare.)
(Catch these games on your way to work. Or at work. Or, you know, just skip work entirely. You don't need to take another day off until March anyway, right?)
(This is where I was going to write the lyrics to "Afternoon Delight," but then I actually listened to "Afternoon Delight" again and, well, wow. According to Wikipedia, that song not only was on the radio in 1976 but was a No. 1 single. What were you guys listening to in 1976?! Not only is the song obviously dirty, but it's also completely terrible. Is "Afternoon Delight" the reason punk music exists? I have so many questions here.)
Please Stay With Us
(Really, this is when the marathon gets challenging, at least for those of us -- and I realize I might be the only one -- trying to watch all 25 hours of it. Fortunately, the best game of the entire event falls in this group, and if it doesn't get the adrenaline pumping, I suggest skydiving.)
Survival of the Fittest
(Well, this is it. You made it this far, but can you close it out? The difference between a successful marathon and a failed one can be so unfairly decided by the brutal final miles. Did you close out strong? Or did you limp -- remote on the belly, drooling softly on your couch -- to the finish?)
9:30 p.m. ET: Belmont at No. 23 Tennessee (ESPNU) -- This is where we separate the men from the boys. (And the women from the girls. Or the adults from the children. Or the well, you get the point.) By now, if you've been with the marathon for this long, you have to finish it out, and though Belmont-Tennessee isn't exactly top-notch viewing, the Volunteers' exhibition loss to Division II foe Indianapolis in the preseason means you can't completely discount the possibility of an upset. In the meantime, the game marks the start of what is no doubt going to be a challenging and quixotic campaign for Bruce Pearl. In many ways, what happens on the court this season doesn't matter; Pearl's coaching fate will be decided when the NCAA finishes its investigation into recruiting violations Pearl committed (then fibbed about, then admitted). But it couldn't hurt to keep the hoops at a high level, either.
10 p.m. ET: South Carolina at No. 2 Michigan State (ESPN/ESPN3) -- Give South Carolina credit for playing anybody anywhere this season. With a trip to the Breslin Center, the Gamecocks have as tough a game as any in the marathon. Darrin Horn's team won't be quite as bad as you might expect given the loss of star guard Devan Downey, but it'll have a major uphill battle in East Lansing. So why should you watch? Well, not only is this the first chance to see one of the few teams most observers believe can unseat Duke at the top of the college pile this season, but it's a chance to peek in on the recovery of Kalin Lucas after the Achilles tear that sidelined the Spartans' star in last season's NCAA tournament run. I'm also excited to see Draymond Green, Sparty's vocal and skilled former sixth man, take on the added responsibilities of a starter's role.
11 p.m. ET: San Diego State at No. 12 Gonzaga (ESPN2/ESPN3) -- Casual hoops fans know Gonzaga, but they might not know San Diego State, and thus might be unaware that this is one of the better games on the entire marathon schedule. But, oh, it is. San Diego State is the Mountain West favorite and a preseason AP Top 25 team, and the Aztecs are led by 6-foot-7 forward Kawhi Leonard, one of the players you might not have heard of but you should. Much is expected of SDSU, but the Aztecs are a program very much in the "prove it" phase, and there are few better opportunities to prove your quasi-mid-major bona fides than winning an early road game at the marquee mid-major program of the past decade-plus.
11:30 p.m. ET: Pacific at UCLA (ESPNU) -- And, finally, the marathon will draw to a close. If you make it this far, you're officially out of your mind, and I think we maybe need to be best friends. (I'll still be live-blogging for the 25th straight hour. At that point, I probably will need some friendship.) What about the game itself? Both of these potential UCLA opponents -- they will play Monday night in an NIT Season Tip-Off opening game -- qualify as solid mid-majors, as Pacific is one of the favorites to win the Big West yet again. But more than anything, the game is an early look at how far the Bruins have come -- and how far they need to go -- in the process of rebounding from last year's disastrous 14-win season. Keep an eye out for freshmen Joshua Smith, Tyler Lamb and Matt Carlino, and check in on the frosh-to-soph improvement of sophomore forward tandem Reeves Nelson and Tyler Honeycutt.
(If you make it this far, I expect you to sing along with me: Weeee are the championnnns, my friennnnnnds! And we'll keep on fighting ... 'til the end [bum bum bummmm]! And then I will close my computer screen, turn off my TV and sleep for approximately 34 years. See you then.)
Eamonn Brennan covers college basketball for ESPN.com. You can see his work every Monday through Friday in the College Basketball Nation blog.