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 that really holds true, especially with the start of the PK80, bringing some major programs away from these sort of events. This is a down year for the Maui Invitational, but it’s still a major name. There are only three locks for the NCAA Tournament in the field as they are Wichita State, Notre Dame and Michigan. Granted the field does have Marquette and VCU, both of whom are expected to make the NCAA Tournament, but are closer to the bubble than they are locks. Either way, we’re talking about day time gambling, Bill Walton high as hell rambling about random things and that tiny gym, which makes the Maui Invitational awesome.
Preview: It’s nice that the tournament is giving us the best first round matchup right off the bat. Marquette/VCU are two completely different styles of play as VCU wants to beat you with defense. The Rams force the tempo by getting into their press, trying to speed up offenses and force them to play at a pace they aren’t comfortable with. This in turn forces turnovers, giving VCU easy buckets, something they don’t tend to get in the halfcourt. Marquette, which is known as a high-scoring offense, doesn’t necessarily want to play fast. They prefer working the ball for an open shot, running off screens and finding someone on a flare for a three. They do take care of the ball however, currently ranking 55th in the country in turnover percentage. Marquette will shoot a ton of threes, that’s just what they do. So to me that’s going to be the important thing to watch in this game. VCU defends the 3-point line average-to-above average. They rank 180th in 3PA/FGA and 92nd in 3-point percentage defended. On the flip side Marquette is 82nd in getting up 3PA/FGA and shoots 35.4% as a team. The only other first round game that has some interest is Michigan/LSU late night. Michigan has struggled early in the season, especially Charles Matthews – the Kentucky transfer who many thought would thrive under Beilein. For LSU, it’s a rebuilding year but they will compete. Tremont Waters is going to be a great point guard for them. Brandon Sampson is a guy that can do a little bit of everything. We always see something weird in this event – remember last year Georgetown beat Oregon- so don’t be surprised if this is the upset in the first round.
The game that everyone is hoping for is in the finals with Wichita State vs Notre Dame. That would be the saving grace for this event as that should be an awesome game. Wichita State should be able to get to the finals pretty easily, getting a team in Cal who simply isn’t good in the first game. After that they get the winner of VCU/Marquette, two teams they match up well due to Wichita’s defense. For Notre Dame, they get Chaminade in the first round, meaning the Irish will be in the semis. If they get Michigan there that game would be a ton of fun simply due to the offenses of both teams. Both Mike Brey and John Beilein are offensive geniuses, with Beilein running the two-guard motion and Brey running a ton of sets whether it’s shallow cuts, side screens or zipper cuts.
If we get Wichita vs Notre Dame in the finals, it will be a strong barometer for both teams. I think Notre Dame is a sneaky Final Four team and Wichita is on the shortlist of teams that fans expect to be there. The one caveat in this game is Wichita not having Markis McDuffie – an All-Conference type player.
Picks: VCU over Marquette, Wichtia State over Cal, Notre Dame over Chaminade, Michigan over LSU
Semifinals: Wichita State over VCU, Notre Dame over Michigan
Champ: Wichita State over Notre Dame
Players to Watch: Markus Howard (Marquette), Issac Vann (VCU), Landry Shamet (Wichita State), Marcus Lee (Cal), Bonzie Colson (Notre Dame), Mo Wagner (Michigan), Tremont Waters (LSU)
Cayman Islands Classic
Preview: Not a whole lot to talk about with this event. This is one of the weaker tournaments out there simply due to the lack of major teams in this event – one that was truly hurt by the PK80. Cincinnati is a top-15 team who should roll through this event and if they do, it just marks how good this team is. That’s a staple of a good team, especially when the toughest competition they should face is Iowa. The first round game to pay attention to is South Dakota State vs Wyoming, simply because of Mike Daum vs a team that could make the NCAA Tournament from the Mountain West. Either way this is just setting up for Cincinnati vs Iowa, in a game that would be entertaining because Iowa is a team on the rise. I really like Iowa’s 1-2 game with Jordan Bohannon and Tyler Cook, but they just don’t enough to score with Cincinnati – a weird statement, I know. That said, Cincinnati’s offense is humming right now, granted against 3 weaker teams. They are getting up and down the court, looking to attack and take advantage of the athleticism on the wings and with Gary Clark.
Picks: Iowa over Louisiana, Wyoming over South Dakota State, UAB over Richmond, Cincinnati over Buffalo
Iowa over Wyoming, Cincinnati over UAB
Champ: Cincinnati over Iowa
Players to Watch: JaKeenan Gant (Louisiana), Tyler Cook (Iowa), Mike Daum (South Dakota State) Hayden Dalton (Wyoming), Chris Cokley (UAB), CJ Massinburg (Buffalo), Jacob Evans (Cincinnati)
Progressive Legends Classic – Brooklyn
Semis: Texas A&M vs Oklahoma State, Penn State vs Pitt
Preview: Again, another pretty weak event as Pitt is garbage, Penn State is a borderline bubble team, Oklahoma State is rebuilding and Texas A&M is a top-20 team in the country. This is one where the Aggies need to dominate both games, get out healthy and just move on. Oklahoma State did get Jeffrey Carroll back after sitting to start the season due to eligibility questions stemming from the FBI investigation. A&M had that huge win over West Virginia and are now ‘used’ to playing on a neutral court. They have a little bit of everything when you look at the size inside with Tyler Davis/Robert Williams/Tonny Trocha-Morales and then guard play with JJ Caldwell, DJ Hogg, Admon Gilder and Duane Wilson. In the other game, Pitt is an absolute disaster. Kevin Stallings will go down as one of the worst hires in college basketball as he’s simply not successful. It’s not even one of those wait and see what happens when he gets his players into the system ,because players aren’t coming. The most talent he’ll have on his roster was last year and he was a massive failure there. Forcing Jamie Dixon out was fine, you felt like you hit your peak, you move on and try with someone new. The problem was where did you think Stallings was the correct hire? How does that rejuvenate a program that should be relevant? Meanwhile you’re playing a school from the same state that isn’t known for basketball and is trending the right way. Penn State got there by recruiting Philadelphia and bringing in guys like Tony Carr. It’s saved Pat Chambers job as of now and this season you should see them push towards the bubble. Carr did miss the last game with an ankle injury, but it isn’t looked at as a serious injury. He should be playing in this event.
Picks: Texas A&M over Penn State
Players to Watch: Robert Williams (Texas A&M), Jeffrey Carroll (Oklahoma State), Ryan Luther (Pitt), Tony Carr (Penn State)
Hall of Fame Classic
Preview: We finally get one of the better events as we have four teams who should be in the NCAA Tournament playing on a neutral court here. The first game is UCLA vs Creighton in a game that should be up and down and an offensive game. Creighton has one of the better backcourts in the country in Khyri Thomas and Marcus Foster, but the question is how deep are they and what’s the talent in the front court. Toby Hegner sprained an ankle in the game at Northwestern last week, which is expected to sideline him for another week. UCLA on the other hand has the experience in Aaron Holiday and Thomas Welsh. They have the young talent in Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands, but where’s the depth? That’s the biggest problem with this China shoplifting thing. The Bruins lost three rotation players, including one starter, making that bench even shorter for Alford. In the other game you have Wisconsin vs Baylor’s zone. Baylor runs that 1-1-3 zone, with good length at the rim in Jo Lual-Acuil and Nuni Omot. Wisconsin will need someone to step up from the guard/wing spot. You know what you’re getting out of Ethan Happ, but against this zone you want to work the ball around and look for a swing pass. That’s where an open three will be and whether it’s Trice/Pritzil/Davidson, someone needs to be consistent tonight. All in all both games should be really close as Vegas has both games at 1.5.
Picks: Creighton over Baylor
Players to Watch: Ethan Happ (Wisconsin), Manu Lemcote (Baylor), Khyri Thomas (Creighton), Kris Wilkes (UCLA)
3. Michigan State
7. Wichita State
11. Seton Hall
15. Texas A&M
16. Notre Dame
19. St. Mary’s
25. Texas Tech