It's time to stock up on espresso, energy drinks and over-sugared soda because ESPN's 24-hour college hoops marathon begins at midnight ET on Monday night. Here's a guide to which games you should sacrifice sleep or job security for and which you can afford to miss:
Only a date with Mila Kunis is an acceptable reason to skip these:
• Duke vs. Kentucky (from Atlanta), 9:30 p.m. ET
Even though the Blue Devils and Wildcats haven't faced one another for more than a decade, their fan bases consider this a rivalry because of the classic games the two programs have played. From Christian Laettner breaking hearts in Lexington in the East Regional final in 1992 to Kentucky enacting revenge six years later with a spot in the Final Four on the line, the series has produced some memorable moments.
The stakes in a mid-November game aren't quite as high, but this will provide a good early barometer for two programs with high expectations but questions at point guard. Duke needs sophomore Quinn Cook to bounce back from a disappointing freshman year, solidify himself as the starter and create for his teammates off the dribble the way no other Blue Devils guard can. Kentucky needs sophomore Ryan Harrow to rebound from a flu-riddled scoreless performance against Maryland on Friday and show signs that he can approach the level at which John Calipari's previous point guards played.
• Kansas vs. Michigan State (from Atlanta), 7 p.m. ET
Even though Michigan State recovered from an 0-2 start last season to contend in the Big Ten and reach the Sweet 16, digging an early hole each season is not a trend the Spartans want to see continue. To avoid that, Michigan State will have to readjust quickly to the Eastern time zone and fix some of the problems that led to Friday night's surprising loss to UConn on a military base in Germany.
If the Spartans are going to fare better against Kansas, they'll have to get more out of their experienced frontcourt. Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne struggled with turnovers and combined for a mere 12 points on seven shots, surprising considering the paint should have been Michigan State's biggest advantage over UConn. Kansas, on the other hand, will be hoping for better outside shooting after going just 2 of 21 from behind the arc in its opener Friday night.
Worth staying up for even if it means arriving late to work Tuesday morning:
• West Virginia at Gonzaga 12 a.m. ET
Gonzaga's Przemek Karnowski (AP)The last time these two teams met, Gonzaga waxed West Virginia 77-54 in the opening round of the NCAA tournament last March. Worse yet, this year's Zags may be better than last year's with guards Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell now beginning their sophomore seasons and 7-foot freshman Przemek Karnowski emerging as a potential weapon in the paint.
This could be a great game if transfers Juwan Staten (Dayton) and Aaric Murray (La Salle) help a young Mountaineers team overcome the graduation of all-conference forward Kevin Jones and volume shooter Truck Bryant. Even if West Virginia isn't quite up to the task of winning at the Kennel yet, it will still be intriguing to see if Karnowski follows his 22-point performance against Southern Utah with something similar against better competition.
• Davidson at New Mexico, 2 a.m. ET
Between the midnight atmosphere at the Pit and New Mexico's array of quality guards, the Lobos will not be easy to beat. Nonetheless, Davidson cannot be counted out since it figures to be one of the most formidable mid-majors in the nation this season thanks to the return of all five starters from last year's 25-win team.
New Mexico probably has an edge on the perimeter with all-conference point guard Kendall Williams, promising sophomore Hugh Greenwood, streaky Demetrius Walker and breakout candidate Tony Snell. A Lobos frontcourt seeking to replace Drew Gordon will have its hands full with Davidson forwards De'Mon Brooks and Jake Cohen, the former an efficient scorer in the paint and the latter a dangerous inside-outside threat.
Track these at work and head to the break room TV for the final minutes:
• Butler at Xavier, 4 p.m. ET
This matchup of Atlantic 10 teams is technically a nonconference game because it was scheduled before Butler joined the league. Having improved its outside shooting thanks to the arrival of transfer Rotnei Clarke and freshman Kellen Dunham, Butler hopes to show it can be a contender in its new league against the Atlantic 10's flagship program in recent years. This is a rebuilding year for Xavier because of all the talent lost during a disastrous offseason, though the Musketeers did look better than expected Friday night hanging 117 points on hapless Fairleigh Dickinson.
• Harvard at Massachusetts, 10 a.m. ET
The two best teams in the state of Massachusetts square off with more than state bragging rights on the line. Harvard hopes to show it's still an NCAA tournament threat despite the season-long suspensions of senior co-captains Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry. UMass wants an early win to validate its preseason hype as an Atlantic 10 contender thanks to the return of Chaz Williams and several other key players from last year's NIT semifinal team.
To avenge a 69-63 loss to Detroit last season, St. John's will have to do a better job on Titans star Ray McCallum Jr. The talented point guard scorched the Johnnies for an efficient 21 points on 7-for-12 shooting last year. McCallum, the early favorite for Horizon League player of the year, is off to a good start again this season after scoring 22 points and dishing out six assists in a season-opening blowout of Northern Michigan on Friday night.
• Temple at Kent State, 12 p.m. ET
The Golden Flashes already beat one Philadelphia power at home, upsetting preseason CAA favorite Drexel 66-62 in overtime on Friday night between 21 points from forward Chris Evans and 17 from guard Randal Holt. Now Kent State will try to topple another top team from the City of Brotherly Love when Atlantic 10 contender Temple visits. This will be a difficult season opener for the Owls, which lost big man Micheal Eric and guards Ramone Moore and Juan Fernandez from last season's 24-win NCAA tournament team.
Go ahead and sleep in or work through these:
• Stony Brook at Rider, 6 a.m. ET
Stony Brook is the favorite in the America East. MAAC contender Rider clobbered Robert Morris in its season opener behind 26 points from St. John's transfer Nurideen Lindsey. The potential matchup between Lindsey and scrappy defender Tommy Brenton promises to be fun for insomniacs on the West Coast and diehards back east, but the vast majority of the nation will sleep through this one.
• Northern Illinois at Valparaiso, 8 a.m. ET
Horizon League favorite Valparaiso probably would have liked a stronger opponent here than Northern Illinois, which is coming off a 5-26 season last year and lost to Division I newcomer Nebraska Omaha in its season opener. The upset potential here is minimal at best, as is the entertainment value.
Even friends and family may sleep through this one:
• Houston Baptist at Hawaii, 4 a.m. ET
The Great West Conference's Houston Baptist faces a Hawaii team still without its top player due to injury. Those crazy enough to try to stay awake will need a six pack of energy drinks or two 32-ounce Mountain Dews.
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