Ranking the ESPN 2012 Tip-Off Marathon games

If you haven’t scheduled November 13th off of work yet, now is the time. The unofficial college basketball opener has been announced, and here are the 2012 ESPN Tip-Off Marathon games, ranked from best to least best.

1. Duke vs Kentucky (9:30 p.m.): Kentucky’s next round of uber-talented freshman will be taking on an experienced Blue Devil lineup. The winner of this game will get a huge March boost, and if Kentucky can jump out of the gate by knocking off a deep, veteran squad, then the interwebs will be going nuts with articles about a repeat. These two programs – who harbor a special hate for one another – haven’t played in over a decade.

2. Davidson at New Mexico (2 a.m.): This is the game for college hoops junkies. Tipping in the middle of the night from one of college basketball’s premier venues, it features a loaded Davidson team against New Mexico who graduated star Drew Gordon. Don’t feel bad for the Lobos however, as they return plenty of scoring options and could be special on defense. For Davidson, check out De’Mon Brooks before he becomes a household name.

3. Michigan State vs Kansas (7 p.m.): A couple of college basketball heavyweights debut new lineups, though Sparty will have already played a game by the time this one tips. Will Branden Dawson tip his hand that he’s going to have a breakout season? How will the Kansas offense look without T-Rob, Tyshawn Taylor and Conner Teahan?

4. Detroit at St. John’s (2 p.m.): One of the best small-school players in the nation (Ray McCallum Jr.) versus a beatable Big East team on the rise, in a rematch from last year (Detroit won)? Yes, I think I will.

5. Harvard at UMass (10 a.m.): Derek Kellogg has UMass positioned for a big season, whereas Harvard will be looking for back-to-back NCAA appearances. If they could start their season by upsetting UMass on the road then they’ll be the talk of the Bay State. If you haven’t seen UMass play, it’s worth it just to see Chaz Williams.

6. West Virginia at Gonzaga (Midnight): This whole thing begins with the new Big-12 Mountaineers travelling to Spokane. Gonzaga is deep and experienced, while WVU is not. West Virginia got waxed by Gonzaga in the opening round of this year’s tourney.

7. Butler at Xavier (4 p.m.): Butler wasn’t the Butler we had become used to, but should be a bit better this season. Xavier, who disappointed last year, will be breaking in a lineup without Tu Holloway. And the weird thing is that Butler (now and A-10 school) will be playing another A-10 school in a non-conference game. Makes perfect sense.

8. Temple at Kent State (Noon): This game could have been ranked higher had Kent State’s best player not had to undergo knee surgery a few days ago. Without Randal Holt, it’s hard to see how a young team could hang with Temple. But there’s a lot of time between now and November and perhaps Holt’s healing prowess is as good as his hoops.

9. Northern Illinois at Valparaiso (8 a.m.): Northern Illinois won four games against Division I opponents last season. Valparaiso should be the favorite in the Horizon. This game should not be competitive, but it will be worth watching to get an early read on Valpo.

10. Stony Brook at Rider (6 a.m.): Vermont represented the America East in the NCAA tourney, but it was Stony Brook who won the regular season title. They lose a lot however, and travel to a middle of the pack MAAC school.

11. Houston Baptist at Hawaii (4 a.m.): Someone has to play at 4 in the morning.