With six former national champions, plus upstarts Gonzaga and host Chaminade, the Maui Invitational Tournament field is a who's-who of the nation's top talents, both collective and individual. DraftExpress' J.L. Weill offers a primer for college hoops fans and NBA Draftniks alike.
(Bracket .PDF available from the Official Maui Site)
Monday, November 21
Michigan State vs. Chaminade, 2:30 p.m. ET ESPN2
Gonzaga vs. Maryland, 5 p.m. ET ESPN2
Arizona vs. Kansas, 9 p.m. ET ESPN
Arkansas vs. Connecticut, 11:30 p.m. ET ESPN2
Tuesday, November 22
1:30 PM ESPNU
4:00 PM ESPNU
7 PM ESPN
9:30 PM ESPM
Wednesday, November 23
Championship Game: 10 PM ESPN
Consolation: (5th/6th Game) 2 PM ESPN
7th/8th Place Game 7 PM ESPNU
3rd/4th Place Game: 4:30 PM ESPN2
The First-Round Matchups:
Michigan State vs. Chaminade
The casual fan might see this contest on the schedule and flip the page, assuming the heavily-favored Spartans would roll. And they very well might.
However, a Saturday gimme against Hawaii on Oahu went horribly awry for Tom Izzos crew, as the inspired Fightin Rainbows and Michigan State's debilitating leg cramps resulted in a 22-point season-opening drubbing. Its hard to imagine that the talented Spartans wouldnt learn their lesson (and drink copious amounts of water to rehydrate), but its certain that many eyes will be on the Big Ten favorites to see how (and if) they bounce back.
Chaminade has perhaps the greatest upset in college hoops history in its back pocket (December 1982s shocker over the Ralph Sampson-led Virginia Cavaliers), and Michigan States Saturday slip-up could give the Silverswords some extra pep. But all the pep in the world is unlikely to overcome the powerful Michigan State offense - featuring future pros Shannon Brown, Maurice Ager and Paul Davis -- and unless whole body cramps take over the Spartans players this time around, expect Michigan State to pound their hosts into submission, perhaps taking out a little extra anger after its rude Hawaii introduction.
The pick: Michigan State with authority.
Gonzaga vs. Maryland
The second game of the tournament offers the first helping of tasty basketball pie for college hoops fans, as Are they a mid-major? Gonzaga begins its crushingly difficult non-conference slate against the ACCs Terrapins.
Some feel the pundits have Maryland underrated coming into the year. None other than coach Gary Williams himself has hinted that addition-by-subtraction could be this years mantra since mercurial point guard John Gilchrist is gone. Whats left is a very talented, if thus far underperforming, team that may indeed surpass its preseason 5th place conference media ranking. Nik Caner-Medley and Chris McCray lead a group of four key upperclassmen returnees, and are joined by talented sophomore James Gist in a starting five with few holes. Offense will drive Maryland this season, and against a running Gonzaga squad, the small, but multi-skilled, Terrapins could be at their best.
The Bulldogs, to their credit, are no pushovers. Far from it. A preseason top 10 ranking, the schools highest ever, puts the WCCs best on the hot seat. Mark Fews minions have shown little tendency to rattle over the last few years, however, and may be among the deepest teams in the west. Led by preseason first-team All-American Adam Morrison, a quirky scorer in the Bird/Szczerbiak mold, Derek Raivio, J.P. Batista and defensive stalwart Erroll Knight, Gonzaga has a formidable stable of players, and one that knows its pieces well. Its hard to know whether the weight of expectations will play a role in the Bulldogs success or lack thereof, but one thing is certain: They wont sneak up on anyone.
Despite the Terps many skilled athletes and a title-winning coach, on paper Gonzaga has too many weapons and too much to play for heading into Maui. In a high-scoring, defensively challenged affair, look for Gonzaga to show up.
The pick: Gonzaga in a squeaker.
Arizona vs. Kansas
Despite some big losses (NBAers Channing Frye, Salim Stoudemire), Arizonas Silver Fox returns one of his more talented teams in recent memory this year, welcoming back uber-athletic combo guard Hassan Adams as the new leader of the Wildcats. While up-and-down point man Mustafa Shakur tries to prove hes more up than down, Chris Rodgers offers Lute Olsen options in the backcourt. The frontcourt is another matter, and if a talented but extremely green Kansas team is going to pick off the PAC-10 favorites, itll be down low. Adding to the intrigue, Jawann McClellan is ineligible for the fall semester and wont be on the floor in Hawaii.
In C.J. Giles and Sasha Kaun, Bill Self has a load up front. Darnell Jacksons suspension hurts, but not as badly as it might another team. While both centers are prone to bouts of ineffectiveness, they are equally capable of punishing an opponent for 20 and 10. Incoming frosh Brandon Rush, Julian Wright and Micah Downs (if he plays after an ankle sprain) will have to be wiser and more in control than their young age if the Jayhawks are going to surprise the favored Wildcats. In all, Kansas sports 10 freshman and sophomores on the roster, and the season (and Mondays opener) will probably be a mix of breathtaking highs and forehead-slapping lows for Kansas fans.
The Jayhawks bigs should give Arizona fits in the paint, McClellans out, and despite a veteran presence from Kirk Walters, the Wildcats could take their younger opponents too lightly. If sophomore Russell Robinson and freshman point man Mario Chalmers show up ready to play, Kansas will have enough talent to run with an untested Arizona team.
The pick: Kansas in an upset (Hey, you gotta pick one every now and then ).
Arkansas vs. Connecticut
Despite the absence until January of starting point guard Marcus Williams, Connecticut is better stocked than a GAP before Christmas. With an All-American frontcourt of sophomore Rudy Gay and junior Josh Boone, and NBA-potential talents in Hilton Armstrong and Denham Brown, there is no shortage of scoring options for the deep Huskies. Williams absence, and to a lesser degree that of A.J.Price, mean the UCONN backcourt is thinner, and if Arkansas has a chance in their Maui matchup, itll be directly related to this deficiency.
The Razorbacks are hungry, and better seasoned than they were last year. Led by preseason SEC Player of the Year and probable future lottery pick Ronnie Brewer, Arkansas hopes to parlay recruiting success into on-court success this year, and make the NCAAs for the first time under Stan Heath. An athletic Darian Townes gives the Arkansas frontcourt a boost, aided by the improving Steven Hill, and Jonathan Modica is a capable scorer, but this team will go as far as the versatile Brewer can take them.
In the end, UCONN has too many weapons. And despite the Razorbacks improving fortunes, Gay and Boone should find plenty of easy points around the rim. If Brewer explodes for 30 and gets some help from his mates, it could be closer. But even without Williams the Huskies are a top 5 team and should have enough to outlast even a game first-round opponent like Arkansas.
The pick: UCONN in a walk.
Top 15 NBA draft prospects to watch in Maui:
With no less than 7 strong lottery prospects for this year's draft and beyond in attendance, along with a host of other likely future first roudners, the Maui Invitational tournament is clearly the place for NBA scouts to be this week. Rudy Gay, Ronnie Brewer, Adam Morrison, Brandon Rush and many others highlight this incredibly talented field.
(1) Rudy Gay, SF, UCONN Many gurus' top American player, Gay is poised to break out in a big way and could use Maui to get it started.
(2) Ronnie Brewer, PG/SG, Arkansas Expect big games in both wins and losses from this SEC box score stuffer.
(3) Adam Morrison, SF, Gonzaga Look past his flowing locks and quirky offensive game and youll see a genuine gym rat, and a lethal scorer.
(4) Josh Boone, PF/C, UCONN Bruiser, garbageman and underperforming have all been used to describe Boone. So, too, will lottery pick.
(5) Brandon Rush, SF/SG, Kansas Rush decided to try school instead of the pros, and Bill Self is very glad he did so.
(6) Hassan Adams, SF, Arizona More of a combo forward, Adams can write his own ticket in the glare of the Zona spotlight.
(7) Maurice Ager, SG/SF, Michigan State A high-rising senior guard, Ager has battled injuries and inconsistency but should score in bunches.
(8) Julian Wright, SF, Kansas Capable of playing four positions on the floor, the versatile Wright is raw but talented.
(9) Shannon Brown, SG, Michigan State He blew up on Kentucky in last years NCAAs, but should do that many times in 06.
(10) Paul Davis, PF/C, Michigan State With one last chance to prove hes the next Laettner, Davis needs to show consistency.
(11) C.J. Giles, PF/C, Kansas With Wayne Simien gone, the low post is wide open. Time for the athletic Giles to step up.
(12) Darian Townes, C, Arkansas Hes got a pro body but needs more experience. But the scouts are watching.
(13) Nik Caner-Medley, SF, Maryland It's hard to predict his pro potential, but when hes on, hes clearly got the goods.
(14) Mustafa Shakur, PG, Arizona He was supposed to be the answer at the point, but has struggled under the weight of those expectations.
(15) Sasha Kaun, C, Kansas A wide body, but with skilled footwork, Kaun was highly sought after as a high schooler and looked ready to contribute in a 25 point, 16 rebound effort last week.