The annual ESPN College Hoops Marathon begins it's 24-hour (in reality it is closer to 25.5 hours) run at Midnight when Memphis will will host Miami on ESPN. That begins a string of games that will be spread out across the ESPN "family" of networks that for our readers will likely peak with the 5:30pm tip-off with Villanova hosting the Marist Red Foxes in the opening round of the N.I.T. Season Tip-Off tournament. [Tickets]
Marist won only one game last season, at home against the Manhattan Jaspers. The Red Foxes are billing last season as a "fluke," but the MAAC coaches weren't too convinced, picking Marist to finish dead-last for the third straight year in their preseason poll.
They did have a few issues last year with getting their players on the court. Three players were sidelined with academic ineligibility issues, including guards R.J. Hall and Sam Prescott both missed stretches of the season and former Villanovan Casiem Drummond was ruled ineligible and left school.
This year, Marist is hoping to avoid those issues. They've added a three-man recruiting class, including two 6'10" forwards and a 6'5" swingman. The additions, along with redshirt freshman forward Menelik Watson, take them from a small team with a thin rotation, to a bigger team with a deeper roster.
The Red Foxes also return 4 starters from last year's squad along with eight of their top-nine scorers.
R.J. Hall will be relied upon to lead the team from the point and newcomer Watson sizes up to be a notable presence for the team in the paint. The English forward clocks in at 6'8" and 270 pounds with soft hands and an ability to finish around the basket -- he could be a daunting low-post presence for Marist this season.
Ken Pomeroy gives the Red Foxes a 2% chance of winning this game, and the point spread will not likely pose a rosier picture. That said, midmajors like Marist -- especially one coming trying to re-establish their credibility after a nightmare season -- will often empty the proverbial tank to give a major opponent a game.
This will be a good opportunity for the Villanova defense to get tuned up for the season. Watson will also pose an interesting match-up for the Villanova frontcourt. Mouph Yarou and Antonio Pena will need to perform better offensively than they did in the Bucknell game if this offense is going to reach it's maximum efficiency.
If the Wildcats can spread their scoring out, play tough defense and protect the ball (I'm looking at you, Maalik -- he had 6 turnovers vs. Bucknell), the 'Cats will be one step closer to an early-season trip to Madison Square Garden.
Other notable marathon match-ups for Villanova fans include:
2:00 am - St. John's at St. Mary's: The Johnnies kick off the Lavin era with a visit to the school that knocked our boys out of the NCAA tournament last year. (ESPN)
8:00 am - Stony Brook at Monmouth: Your first chance to check out the new Monmouth gym on TV and gather some intelligence about their December 22nd opponent. (ESPN)
2:00 pm - La Salle at Baylor: La Salle gave the 'Cats a game last year, but were hit hard by the injury bug. They should be improved this season and they will take on a top-20 opponent when they visit Waco, TX. (ESPN)
7:00 pm - Detroit at Syracuse: Detroit may have had one of the best recruiting years in a long time this season when the coach's son committed. Syracuse will be hoping to tune up it's roster for another run at the BIG EAST this year -- and hopefully end the disturbing trend of having super-frosh Fab Melo fouling out in consecutive games. (ESPN3.com)
7:30 pm - St. Joseph's at Penn State: Can the Hawks knock of the Talor Battle-led Nittany Lions? Are they good enough to give Villanova trouble? (ESPN3.com)
8:00 pm - Butler at Louisville: The Cardinals are expected to be rebuilding this season, but will their faster pace this season be enough to knock off the National runners-up? (ESPN)
Villanova vs. Marist tips-off Tuesday at 5:30PM on ESPNU. The FULL ESPN Marathon schedule can be found HERE.
If you are in New York City tomorrow: Check out the Manhattan Alumni Chapter's Hoops Kickoff and Gamewatch -- there will be impressive drink specials.
Also, don't forget to post your predictions in our Closest to the Pin Contest.