Inside the Bracket: Impact games during the Tip-Off Marathon
With enough time and enough coffee, ESPN’s Tip-Off Marathon offers college hoops fanatics a splendid 24-hour escape. If you’re unwilling (or unable) to power through a full day, you can always set the DVR. Either way, Selection Committee members will be tracking results. Here are a few of the games that could have bracket implications …
West Virginia at Gonzaga – Other than a game with Michigan on December 15, this is West Virginia’s best chance to post a top-flight non-conference victory. The Zags always play a good non-conference schedule.
Davidson at New Mexico – Davidson is heavy favorite to win the Southern Conference, and many think the Wildcats could advance a game or two in March. A win at The Pit would certainly look good on the Wildcats’ resume if they need it on Selection Sunday. New Mexico has road trips to Cincinnati and Saint Louis in late December, so beating Davidson would be a good way to kick-off the season.
Temple at Kent State – The host Flashes opened their season with a victory over Colonial favorite Drexel. Adding a win over Temple might be even bigger. KSU will challenge Ohio for the Mid-American title, but an at-large berth has been rare for MAC teams in recent years. The Owls still play Duke, Syracuse, and Kansas outside the Atlantic 10. While there is less urgency, this would be a quality road win.
Detroit at St. John’s – This is a game the Red Storm should win. St. John’s has the potential to be a sleeper in the Big East, but protecting home court will be important throughout the season. If there’s a challenger to Valparaiso in the new-look Horizon, it could be Detroit. Big chance for the Titans to make an early statement.
Butler at Xavier – Regional rivalry has added meaning with Butler’s jump to the Atlantic 10. The Musketeers are a work in progress after an off-season in which they lost Tu Halloway to graduation, Mark Lyons to Arizona, and Dez Wells to Maryland. Then again, XU scored 117 points against Fairleigh Dickinson in its opener. Butler has a non-conference schedule that includes Marquette in Maui (for starters), a date with Indiana in Indianapolis, and a home game with Gonzaga. Beating Xavier at the Cintas Center would be a good way to tune-up – even if it’s not an official Atlantic 10 game.
Wichita State at VCU – With an A-10 schedule ahead, VCU has plenty of opportunites for quality wins. That’s a huge advantage from the Rams’ days in the Colonial. Still, the Atlantic 10 race figures to be close, and solid out-of-conference wins are always important. Wichita State begins the season as a potential bubble team. Beating one of the A-10 favorites on the road would help the resume. After this tilt, Wichita State’s next big opportunity is Tennessee on December 13.
Michigan State vs. Kansas (Atlanta) – The first of two titanic struggles at the Georgia Dome – site of this year’s Final Four. Either could make a return trip in April. The Spartans are coming off an upset loss to Connecticut in Germany, so you know Tom Izzo will have MSU ready to play. Kansas gets it first real test.
Duke vs. Kentucky (Atlanta) – A perfect game to end the Marathon: two storied programs with fan bases that don’t care much for each other. Plus, if either (or both) is in play for a No. 1 seed, this could be a game talked about when the brackets are put together.
Enjoy the Marathon. It starts a fun two weeks in college hoops.