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Maui Invitational Preview and Picks, Top-25

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Over the last couple of years, the secret no one wanted to admit was the Battle 4 Atlantis turned into a better holiday tournament than the Maui Invitational. Now, if you’re a college basketball fan, those words should be blasphemy as the Maui Invitational is the most known early season tournament.

This year the Maui Invitational field looks to be loaded. There are three Final Four caliber teams in the field and then you throw in teams with history like UConn and Georgetown and it’s must-watch college basketball. The quarterfinals start today at 2:30 so we’ll break down each game and make our predictions for the tournament.

Tennessee vs Wisconsin – 2:30 pm

Line: Wisconsin -13.5

For Wisconsin it’s simple. The Badgers need to get back to playing through Ethan Happ on the offensive side of the ball and not settle for jumpers right away. In the loss to Creighton last week, Wisconsin settled for too many deep jumpers, especially by Nigel Hayes instead of playing through the post. The Wisconsin offense is at its best going inside-out and that’s the only way they live up to the hype in the preseason. This isn’t a great shooting team, no matter how many times Nigel Hayes wants to be viewed as a threat from the outside. Luckily they should catch a break here against Tennessee, who is average at best on the defensive side of the ball. The one thing the Volunteers do well though is force quick possessions. They currently rank as the 8th best team in the country, holding their opponents to just 14 seconds per possession. Most of this is due to the press they run and trying to trap to force turnovers, so it’s really feast or famine for Tennessee. If Tennessee does press, Wisconsin should get open looks since Koenig and Showalter are upperclassmen and have seen presses before. Look for Happ to have a big game as Tennessee only has one guy who can guard him in Kyle Alexander, otherwise he’s going to have at least a 3-inch advantage.

Pick: Wisconsin will be able to handle the press and get a ton of easy looks. I expect the Badgers to get up 15 early and be able to coast in the second half. Look for them to slow the tempo, forcing Tennessee to play a halfcourt game.

Georgetown vs Oregon – 5pm

Line: No Line at Time of Write up

The biggest thing here is Oregon is getting Dillon Brooks back for about 15 minutes off the bench. He’s a complete matchup nightmare for most people and allows Oregon to play small. The ability of Chris Boucher to protect the rim (and shoot threes) allows the lane to open up on the offensive side of the ball for drive and kicks. This should be the boost that Oregon needs to get back on track, especially with the depth the Ducks have with Casey Benson and Tyler Dorsey to go with Boucher and Brooks. Even if it’s just 15 minutes, that gives the defense a completely different look and the Hoyas will have to adjust. For Georgetown, it’s been a helluva start to the season. Ugly losses to Maryland and Arkansas State show there are weaknesses here. First, this team somewhat shits itself when you press. We saw that against Maryland. They try to play too fast instead of slowing down, running an offense and kicking it to the open guy. They begin to get out of control and go one-on-one. They want to run and play an uptempo game due to the athletes they have this year – something we haven’t seen out of John Thompson III really. They play mostly a man ¾ court defense, which could give Oregon easy looks if they continue to take care of the ball. I’m curious to see how Brooks fits in coming off the bench and what sort of rust he had.

Pick: There’s no line yet because of the Brooks situation. But, I like Oregon to win this game by about 15. I think they want to make a point after losing at Baylor and really getting shut down on the offensive side of the ball. Brooks won’t look the same he did last year, but will at least come in and hit some shots.

Oklahoma State vs UConn – 9 pm

Line: Oklahoma State +3.5

Alright, UConn fans. It hasn’t been the best start to the season. However, I don’t think UConn is nearly as bad as they have looked. There has been just two glaring problems so far for the Huskies. First is the continued wildly inconsistent play of Jalen Adams. He’s too good for this to happen. In two of the three games he’s had an ORtg less than 85 and scored 9 points in each of those games. Granted it’s only been three games his ORtg is down 10 points from last year when he was considered insanely inconsistent. The second problem? The lack of interior talent and scoring. Steven Enoch, Amida Brimah and Kentan Facey all have brought almost nothing to the season so far on the offensive side of the ball. They need one of them – most likely Brimah as he’s in his 12th year of college – to be some sort of offensive threat. The bright spot for UConn though has been Terry Larrier, who looks like he can contend for AAC Player of the Year. He’s averaging over 16 a game and has an ORtg of 105 so far this season. This game will come down to what backcourt has the better game and if either team can get anything from the frontcourt. Oklahoma State has one of the most underappreciated backcourts in the country in Phil Forte and Jawun Evans. Evans is a walking double-double threat as he’s put up eight assists in the last two games. For the season his ORtg is an absurd 144.9, which is good for 68th in the country.

Pick: It’s like a drug I can’t quit, but for some reason I see UConn covering here. Again, they can’t be this bad and we’re due for a good Jalen Adams game. Plus, Kevin Ollie has to know there’s some sort of pressure on him now as he’s due to hear the ‘you won with Calhoun kids’ if he fails again this year. The Maui gives us a surprise team every year and this could be UConn this year beating Oklahoma State and playing UNC tight. If UConn can get to the free throw line – the biggest difference in the two teams is Oklahoma State getting 25% of its points from the line while UConn gets just 17% – they win this game.

UNC vs Chaminade – 11:30pm

Line: UNC – 31

Not much to say here. UNC is good. Chaminade is a DII team. There will be no Ralph Sampson, Virginia here. The one thing I will say is it’s a joke that next year Chaminade isn’t in the Maui Invitational. It was one of the staples of college basketball and I’m not one who enjoys a ton of change. I don’t care that they typically lose every game, there’s something that warms my heart seeing those Silver Swords playing a team tight into the second half.

Pick: UNC might win this game by 50.

Top-25

Been a pretty crazy week for college basketball. Here’s my updated Top-25 rankings:

  1. Kentucky
  2. Villanova
  3. Indiana
  4. Kansas
  5. Duke
  6. Louisville
  7. Gonzaga
  8. UNC
  9. Xavier
  10. Oregon
  11. Arizona
  12. Virginia
  13. Creighton
  14. St. Mary’s
  15. Wisconsin
  16. UCLA
  17. Syracuse
  18. Michigan
  19. Baylor
  20. Rhode Island
  21. Virginia Tech
  22. Miami
  23. West Virginia
  24. Iowa State
  25. Texas