The college season began in earnest Tuesday with ESPN's annual College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon, a 24-hour block of hoops that spanned the country. Watching 12 hours of basketball in a day is a difficult challenge, but your humble author was there to accept the assignment. Here's a look at some of the best of the marathon.
Best Team: Kentucky
With apologies to Ohio State, the Wildcats' performance was slightly more impressive. Facing a national power on a neutral floor, Kentucky pulled away after halftime for a double-digit win. The Wildcats' length was disruptive at the defensive end as Kansas was held to 33.9 percent shooting. Transition opportunities helped Kentucky make better than half its shots. The 'Cats showed impressive balance, with all five starters scoring double-figures. About the only quibble is that John Calipari barely used his bench, largely going with a six-man rotation.
Best Performance: J'Covan Brown, Texas
Who needs first-round picks Damion James, Cory Joseph and Tristan Thompson? Not Brown, who put on a dazzling show in the Longhorns' high-scoring win over Rhode Island. Using screens to free himself and creating at other times off the dribble, Brown scored 35 points on 28 true shot attempts. He scored 10 of his points at the line and 15 more on three-pointers. Brown also handed out six assists and did not have a single turnover.
Best Statement to Doubters: Memphis
My man John Gasaway has questioned whether the Tigers are deserving of their lofty top-10 ranking based on their 2010-11 performance. It was just one game, but Memphis made a convincing case on Tuesday against a dangerous Belmont team, controlling the action throughout a 97-81 victory. It's easy to see why the Tigers are such a popular pick. Josh Pastner can bring talented athletes off his bench in waves. That depth helped Memphis overcome foul trouble that limited center Tarik Black to 13 minutes. Freshman Adonis Thomas came off the bench for 12 points to complement the high-scoring trio of Will Barton, Joe Jackson and Wesley Witherspoon. Witherspoon was perfect from the field and Jackson missed just one of his seven shot attempts.
Best Statement to Doubters, Runner Up: Patric Young, Florida
Young's unique combination of lottery-pick hype and limited freshman production has drawn the attention of another member of the Prospectus family. Last week, Ken Pomeroy wrote about how Young benefits from "physique bias" because of his--yes, Ken--chiseled frame. Last night, Young began to convert potential into performance. Playing 33 minutes, he pulled down 12 rebounds--double opposing number Jared Sullinger's total. Young also showed the ability to contribute at times on offense, scoring a career-high 14 points. He's still not ready to serve as a post threat, but Young can score off putbacks and out of the pick-and-roll.
Best Performance No One Watched: California
While the nation was at least awake for Cal's matchup with Austin Peay, the game was played opposite Kentucky and Kansas at Madison Square Garden, ensuring that only Pac-12 die-hards were watching the conference's new favorite. The Golden Bears allowed just 13 first-half points, building a 27-point advantage and coasting to a 72-55 win. The performance is even more impressive given that leading scorer Allen Crabbe had an off night, making two shots in 12 attempts. Cal still had four players score double-figures, including an unexpected 12 points from freshman post David Kravish. In the long run, California's tight defense is more meaningful. The Golden Bears lead the Pac-10 in scoring efficiency in conference play last year. If Mike Montgomery can get his defense even to average, Cal could run away with the Pac-12 this year.
Best Debut: Rob Senderoff, Kent State
It's safe to say Senderoff did not ease into his new job. In his first game after being elevated to head coach last spring, Senderoff took his Golden Flashes to Morgantown to face West Virginia. Down five at the break, Kent State outscored the Mountaineers 42-27 after halftime to spring the day's biggest upset. Senderoff's charges held the Big East foe to 36.8 percent shooting from the field and overcame getting battered on the glass. Not a bad start for a coach whose future was murky after his involvement in the Kelvin Sampson scandal at Indiana. Senderoff is now just 902 wins shy of Coach K!
Best Debut, Runners Up: Myck Kabongo, Texas/Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga
Teams searching for a point guard during the last recruiting cycle should have been looking to the Great White North. Hours after Pangos scored 33 points in the first game of the Marathon, Canadian countryman Kabongo shined in his second game for the Longhorns. The quicksilver 6-1 point guard lived in the paint, handing out nine assists and racking up an incredible 17 free throw attempts. Kabongo also went among the trees to pull down seven rebounds in a performance that heralds big things to come. (Pun possibly intended.)
Best 0-2 Team: Belmont
No team has played a tougher slate thus far than Michigan State, which followed its loss to North Carolina at sea by falling to Duke last night at the Garden. The Bruins come close, having started the season with matchups against top-10 foes at Cameron Indoor and FedExForum. Belmont gets the nod as the nation's top 0-2 squad by virtue of hanging tougher with the Blue Devils than the Spartans did. Yesterday was a little tougher for Belmont, which made a few runs but struggled to beat the Memphis press in the second half. Still, the Bruins have acquitted themselves admirably against an impossible schedule without the benefit of last season's lights-out three-point shooting. (Belmont shot 6-of-20 beyond the arc Tuesday, and 6-of-19 at Duke.) If the first two games were any indication, the Bruins will again be a tough out come March.
Most Painful NBA Reminder: Texas-Rhode Island Broadcast
The 4 p.m. Eastern game of the Marathon marked the debut of ESPN's NBA debut of Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy as college broadcasters during the lockout. While they transitioned well to the college game, it's obvious their hearts are elsewhere. During the game, Breen and Van Gundy interviewed Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant, sitting courtside to cheer for his alma mater.
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Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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