ESPN aptly refers to the week of Thanksgiving as “Feast Week” in the world of college basketball. Early season tournaments produce scintillating games and March-like moments during the month of November. The headliner of these events is the Maui Jim Maui Invitational, commonly referred to simply as “Maui”, which takes place the three days before Thanksgiving every year, in the tropical paradise of the Hawaiian archipelago.
This year’s Maui field is headlined by a trio of top teams: Oregon, Wisconsin, and the North Carolina Tar Heels. Other participating teams are Connecticut, Georgetown, Tennessee, Oklahoma State, and of course, the Silver Swords of Chaminade. The small Hawaiian university inspired the idea for this elite tournament with their upset victory over the top ranked Virginia Cavaliers in the early 1980s.
First Round Previews
Tennessee vs. Wisconsin
The Volunteers have had a tumultuous start to the season, losing by double digits against Chattanooga before outlasting Appalachian St., 103-94. Rick Barnes can rely on Robert Hubbs, however, as the senior is averaging 13.5 points and 4 rebounds a game. The Volunteers dearth of size has hurt them considerably, with the 6’5” Hubbs often having to play Forward. Center Kyle Alexander has averaged 10 points and 7.5 boards as the one true big man for Tennessee. Wisconsin has a clear advantage in the frontcourt, behind stars Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes. Further depth and size is added by Alex Illikainen and Vito Brown. Leading scorer Bronson Koenig is averaging nearly 16 a game, and should provide the boost that pushes Wisconsin past the Volunteers. Tennessee could hang in and make this game interesting, but the chances are higher the Badgers blow them out. Look for Koenig to be the difference in this being a close game and an easy Badger win. Prediction: Wisconsin 78, Tennessee 62.
Georgetown vs. Oregon
It has been a rough week for the Hoyas, as they lost a heartbreaker against Maryland, before being beaten down by Arkansas St. on their home floor. The talent is there for Georgetown, as both L.J. Peak and Rodney Pryor are averaging 17.7 points a game. Sophomore Center Jessie Govan has averaged 14.3 points a game and 5.7 boards a contest, and continues to be the subject of NBA rumors. Key rotation players Tre Campbell and Jonathan Mulmore have provided crucial depth. If Georgetown puts all their pieces together, they are capable of beating an Oregon team that was thrashed by Baylor this past week. The Ducks are sorely missing Dillon Brooks, while star guard Tyler Dorsey has been underwhelming early in the year, averaging 12.7 points and only 2 assists a game. Chris Boucher, however, has been fantastic, averaging 17 points a game, and Forward Jordan Bell is averaging over four blocks a game. Adding Brooks back to this team makes them instantly a title contender. Still, he is not currently playing, and it makes the depleted Ducks ripe for an upset against a talented team that has been underperforming. The Hoyas should be hungry after the difficult week, and if they play with fire, have a real shot at the upset. Prediction: Georgetown 68, Oregon 64.
Oklahoma St. vs. Connecticut
Connecticut’s shortcomings have been well-documented early in the season, and the road got tougher when freshman Guard Alterique Gilbert went down with a shoulder injury. He will be sorely missed against the Cowboys, in a game where stud sophomore Jawun Evans will be the best player on the floor. The Cowboys’ offense has been electric, topping 100 points in each of their three games this season. Evans is averaging over 23 a game, while senior sharpshooter Phil Forte is pouring in 22 per game. Coming off the bench, Forward Jeffrey Carroll is also contributing 18 a game for the squad’s stellar offense. For the Huskies, sophomore Forward Terry Larrier has been a bright spot in UConn’s dismal start to the season, averaging 16.7 points and 5.7 rebounds a game. Amida Brimah will need to be a force against Oklahoma St.’s inexperienced frontcourt; the senior from Ghana is averaging over four blocks a game. Evans and Forte are more than capable of leading the Cowboys past the Huskies solely on their own. UConn’s talented roster needs to play up to its billing, especially seniors Brimah, Rodney Purvis, and Kentan Facey. The x-factor will be Jalen Adams, and if the Huskies’ explosive guard can contain Evans. He’s got the athleticism to keep up with the Texas native. Prediction: Connecticut 70, Oklahoma St. 67.
Chaminade vs. North Carolina
This game will be all Tar Heels. Chaminade has often run into teams, over the course of this tournament, that they can handle and even defeat. This is not one of those games. Juniors Joel Berry and Justin Jackson have been predictably excellent this year. They are respectively averaging 16.5 and 15.5 points per contest. The Tar Heels as a whole score 92 a game. The frontcourt is one of the deepest and best in the nation. Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks, and freshman Tony Bradley have been tremendous in the post as a trio, and are too much for most power conference teams, let alone Division-II Chaminade. The Tar Heels should win comfortably, and let the players at the end of the bench see some minutes. Prediction: North Carolina 102, Chaminade 61.
Wisconsin vs. North Carolina
This would be a titanic battle, and pit a pair of deep frontcourts against each other. The x-factor would be Bronson Koenig, and how he would handle the matchup against a taller and longer Justin Jackson. Wisconsin would need a major league effort from Happ and Hayes up front to contend with the many different skills and looks Carolina could throw at them. However, the depth of UNC’s rotation should be able to carry them past the Badgers, but expect Wisconsin to keep it close in a high-scoring contest. Prediction: North Carolina 83, Wisconsin 77.
Final Standings Prediction
- North Carolina
- Oklahoma St.
All-Tournament Team Prediction
G Joel Berry, North Carolina
G Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin
F Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin
F Justin Jackson, North Carolina (MVP)
F Terry Larrier, Connecticut
Other Impact Players
G Jalen Adams, Connecticut
G Jawun Evans, Oklahoma St.
G Phil Forte, Oklahoma St.
G/F Robert Hubbs, Tennessee
G/F L.J. Peak, Georgetown
F Jordan Bell, Oregon
F Ethan Happ, Wisconsin
F/C Tony Bradley, North Carolina
C Chris Boucher, Oregon
C Jessie Govan, Georgetown
Maui constantly provides many of the key moments in the early part of the college basketball season. It was where Kemba Walker announced to the nation that UConn was a legitimate team in 2010-11, and it was where North Carolina made sure the nation knew they were the nation’s top team in 2004-05. This season, any of these teams could make a statement. The field is loaded, and the opportunity for a quality win is ubiquitous. The tournament gets started at the famous Lahaina Civic Center Monday afternoon with the 2:30 ET game between Tennessee and Wisconsin, and will conclude with the championship game on Wednesday the 23rd. The entirety of the tournament can be seen on the ESPN family of networks.
Maui Invitational Logo: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maui_Invitational_Tournament
Bronson Koenig: http://www.si.com/college-basketball/2015/04/23/dangelo-russell-bronson-koenig-most-surprising-players
Jessie Govan: http://www.gettyimages.com/event/marquette-v-georgetown-598356789#peak-of-the-georgetown-hoyas-dribbles-up-court-during-a-college-game-picture-id506955374
Jawun Evans: http://www.usatoday.com/sports/services/photos/USATSI-236784/
Justin Jackson: http://www.sportscarolinamonthly.com/uncs-justin-jackson-shakes-off-critics-clears-mind-breaking-slump/