ESPN College Gameday coming to the United Center in Chicago

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ESPN College Gameday, the basketball version, is coming to the United Center, home of the Chicago Bulls Tuesday night. It’s in advance of the Champions Classic double-header featuring #1 Kentucky vs #2 Michigan State and #4 Duke vs. #5 Kansas.  It’s basically a Final Four “on paper,” if all the seeds held, according to college basketball preseason polls.

Kentucky and Michigan State is the first 1-2 matchup of Associated Press ranked teams since Feb. 23, 2008 (Memphis vs. Tennessee) and it would be the earliest ever meeting between teams ranked in the top 2.

Or it’s like a hoops version of the BCS just five days after the season tips off.

ESPN College Gameday is nowhere near as popular in the hoops form as it is in basketball form. That’s because the football version is probably the best thing that ESPN does overall from an original programming standpoint. The primary reason people watch sports networks is for broadcasts of games, not original programming. And ESPN College Gameday football has been around a lot longer than the basketball version.

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Plus football is just a lot more popular than basketball, and much more profitable on television. Gameday was just here for football- October 5th when Northwestern hosted Ohio State. It was also here in November of 2010 when Northwestern faced Illinois at Wrigley Field. In basketball, ESPN College Gameday came to this state in February of 2010 when the Illini hosted and beat #5 Michigan State.

From 2003-07 Illinois had MORE WINS than any program in the nation. But ESPN College Gameday never visited once (not even during the Champaign Campaign season of 2004-05, when the Illini tied the all-time record for single season victories).  UI was one of just eight universities chosen by ESPN in 2010, out of 343 Division 1 basketball programs, for a live ESPN College GameDay broadcast. Nepotism and connections helped make that happen.

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John Althoff, collegiate sports sponsorship coordinator for State Farm Insurance, said in 2010: “It was my hope that we could host ESPN College Gameday before my son graduates. Mission accomplished in that respect,” said Althoff, whose title indicates just how much juice he has at the corporation which is the pregame show’s primary sponsor. And of this season, the naming rights holder for Assembly Hall.

Althoff’s son was a student manager for the Illini basketball team. “I want to thank John. He was very instrumental in us landing Gameday, no doubt. His son is one of our managers, he does a fantastic job.  With our relationship, we developed a relationship with John…And we’re very excited. And it’s a great honor for our program,” then coach Bruce Weber said at the presser.

ESPN College Gameday will originate from United Center at 6 pm. The College GameDay crew of Rece Davis, Jay Bilas, Jalen Rose and Digger Phelps will be on hand, breaking down the day’s college basketball action and previewing the Champions Classic. The double header caps off a 29 hour marathon of college hoops broadcasts on ESPN. Yes, there are even games in the middle of the night:

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Western Kentucky at #16 Wichita State tips at midnight, Akron at St. Mary’s at 2 a.m., New Mexico State at 4 a.m. Hartford at last year’s NCAA Tournament darling Florida Gulf Coast at 6 a.m.

Listen to me every Tuesday at 10:30 AM Central talking Illini and Northwestern on KOZN 1620 The Zone Omaha

Paul M. Banks is the owner of The Sports Bank.net, an affiliate of Fox Sports. He’s also an analyst for multiple news talk radio stations across the world; with regular weekly segments on NBC and Fox Sports Radio. Follow him on Twitter (@paulmbanks) and RSS

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