2K Classic tips off hoops season

Hoops junkies experiencing basketball withdrawals will get their first fix of the season tonight when the annual 2K Sports Classic tips off.

There are three games on the docket and ESPN will be broadcasting two of them: William & Mary at St. John’s (7 p.m. ET, ESPNU), Eastern Kentucky at Mississippi State (8 p.m. ET) and Valparaiso at Arizona (9 p.m. ET, ESPNU).

St. John’s opened as 10-point home favorites but is now giving 8.5 at most sportsbooks displayed on the Sports Options odds service. The total is pegged at 137.

Under the leadership of coach Steve Lavin, St. John’s had a resurgence last year finishing fifth in the powerful Big East with a 12-6 record in conference play and a 21-12 record overall.

The former ESPN analyst has a much-heralded recruitment class led by highly-touted hometown freshman Maurice Harkless, a 6-foot-6, 200-pound small forward. Lavin, who is still recovering from surgery to treat prostrate cancer, is expected to miss tonight’s game.

William & Mary, meanwhile, struggled last season finishing second-last in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) with a 4-14 record in conference play and a 10-22 record overall.

The Tribe will be led by 6-6 senior G-F Quinn McDowell, who led the team in scoring averaging 15.5 ppg last season. McDowell is the top returning scorer in the CAA this season.

In the second game of the night, Eastern Kentucky visits Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss. The Bulldogs opened as 15-point home favorites; that number has since increased to 17. The total is set at 133.5.

The Bulldogs finished second in the SEC West last season with a record of 9-7 in conference play; 17-14 overall. The Colonels, meanwhile, finished sixth in the Ohio Valley Conference with a record of 9-9; 15-16 overall.

In the third game of the evening, Valparaiso visits Arizona. The Wildcats opened as 12-point home favorites; the number has since moved to 13.5. The total is pegged at 137.

Arizona finished first in the Pac-10 with a record of 14-4 in conference play; 30-8 overall. The Wildcats beat Duke to advance to the Elite Eight of last year’s NCAA Tournament where they lost to the eventual National Champion UConn Huskies, 65-63.

This year, Arizona will be playing without star forward Derrick Williams, who was taken second overall in the NBA Draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves. Williams led the team in scoring (19.5 ppg) and rebounds (8.3 rpg).

Despite that huge loss, the Wildcats will begin the season ranked No. 16 in the AP’s preseason rankings. Those rankings no doubt ignore Arizona’s home exhibition loss to Division II Seattle-Pacific at the McKale Center last month.

Valparaiso is coming off a decent season having finished fourth in the Horizon League with a record of 12-6 in conference play; 23-12 overall. The Crusaders will be led by 6-7 junior Ryan Broekhoff, who led the team in rebounds (5.2 rpg) was second in the team in scoring (10.3 ppg) last season.

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