Before handing out my superlatives, let's dive right into what I think would be the 2012 All-Marathon Team:
Honorable mention: Ray McCallum Jr. (Detroit), Siyani Chambers (Harvard), Ryan Broekhoff (Valparaiso), Vander Joaquim (Hawaii), Jesse Morgan (UMass), Chris Obekpa (St. John’s), Jeff Robinson (Xavier), Carl Hall (Wichita State), Juvonte Reddic (VCU), Tim Hardaway Jr. (Michigan), Tray Woodall (Pitt), C.J. McCollum (Lehigh), Alex Poythress (Kentucky), Seth Curry (Duke), Gary Harris (Michigan State), Elijah Johnson (Kansas), Nerlens Noel (Kentucky)
Best game: Kansas versus Michigan State lived up to the hype. The finish was fabulous. But this game featured the best competition and skill of the Marathon. Both teams were coming off subpar efforts in their first games of the season. Both played like they had something to prove. KU had control of the game late until Michigan State launched a comeback. Appling’s drive in the final seconds sealed it. Great game.
Best matchup: Plumlee versus Noel (16 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks). The two battled inside throughout the Marathon’s most anticipated matchup. Noel’s defense kept the Wildcats alive. Plumlee attacked the rim, production that was crucial in Duke’s win.
Best comeback: New Mexico was down by 16 points in the second half of its 86-81 victory over Davidson. But Snell fueled the Lobos' charge at the Pit in the second half. Coach Steve Alford made a series of defensive adjustments that limited Davidson’s offense in the second half.
Best move: Appling’s up-and-under move in the closing seconds of Michigan State's defeat of Kansas extended the Spartans’ lead. Appling drove hard to the left, split a pair of defenders and scored. It was pretty. Travis Releford missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Most clutch: Massachusetts broke a 64-64 tie with Sampson Carter’s game-winning 3-pointer in the corner. Chaz Williams set up the clutch play by driving to the paint and drawing multiple Harvard defenders, which left Carter open for the 3-pointer near the buzzer. Thrilling stuff.
Biggest missed opportunity: Davidson had a chance to start the season with a road win over a Mountain West team that will likely make the NCAA tournament and will compete for its league’s title. The Wildcats led by 16 and squandered that advantage. Bob McKillop’s group might kick itself for this one on Selection Sunday.
Most impressive: Gonzaga did everything right in its victory over West Virginia. The Bulldogs defended well. They executed on offense. And they showcased their depth in the Marathon’s best performance. We knew the Zags were dangerous. They proved it with this victory.
Biggest upset: VCU lost 53-51 at home to a Wichita State team that replaced most of the key members from last season’s NCAA tournament team. The Rams are -- were? -- expected to compete for the Atlantic 10 title during their first year in the league. But they didn’t look the part of a contender during this Marathon upset.
Most confusing: I know West Virginia is adjusting to life without All-American Kevin Jones and the additions of three transfers who commanded heavy minutes. But Tuesday’s loss to Gonzaga was embarrassing. The Mountaineers were 15-for-55 from the field and committed 18 turnovers. Yes, they have a bunch of new faces and, yes, the Kennel isn’t an easy place to win. But that deplorable effort was still baffling.
Best hair: Hawaii’s Isaac Fotu wins this one. Easily. The 6-foot-8 New Zealander’s curly Afro should be trademarked. It was the highlight of the Warriors’ victory over Houston Baptist.
Most noticeable fan: After a nice win over Drexel in the opener, Kent State blew many chances in its loss to Temple. But one superfan never lost hope. You could hear her screaming after every bucket the Golden Flashes made. She’s passionate, that’s for sure.
Greatest discovery: Harvard freshman Chambers could lead the Crimson back to the top of the Ivy League. Tommy Amaker’s program lost two standouts when Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry left the program following an academic scandal. But Harvard held its own against UMass because of Chambers, who scored 14 points, recorded 7 assists and committed just 1 turnover without leaving the floor the entire 40 minutes.
Biggest snoozer: Stony Brook and Rider didn’t help anyone keep their eyes open. With 4 minutes, 16 seconds to play, the two teams were tied at 41-41. Stony Brook secured the 54-46 win in the end, but it wasn’t a pretty effort for either squad. Although I guess we could give them a pass -- you ever tried to play basketball at 6 a.m.?
Most dominant: St. John’s center Obekpa finished with an impressive stat line: 7 points, 2 steals, 11 rebounds and 8 blocks -- that last setting a school record for blocked shots. Nice effort for a freshman. Or anyone, really.
Best defensive strategy: Xavier harassed Butler’s top offensive threats, Khyle Marshall and Rotnei Clarke, in the Musketeers’ 62-47 victory over the Bulldogs. Marshall and Clarke went 6-for-21 from the field combined. The X-Men limited the duo’s clean looks and subsequently stalled Butler’s entire offensive attack.
Best coach: Alford tried to go small early at the Pit. That wasn’t working. So he added some size to his lineup after Davidson built up a double-digit lead against his New Mexico team. The Wildcats had a lot of open looks in the first half, so the Lobos smothered them in the second half. Alford’s in-game tweaks were crucial in UNM’s comeback.