Over the past several years, the Maui Invitational has proven to be one of the top early season tournaments in all of college basketball. One of the biggest reasons why it has so much prestige is that when Connecticut won it two years ago, they also won the Big East and NCAA tournaments, implying that the wins were all somehow connected.
The tournament began when Chaminade, now a Division II school, upset Virginia back in 1982. Chaminade is always in the tournament (although they rarely ever win) and will be facing Texas in the first round.
Texas is a team to watch out for. The Longhorns reeled in a nice haul of freshmen big men including Cameron Ridley, Prince Ibeh, and Connor Lammert. They also will have Myck Kabongo running the point, and it will be up to him to get the young guys involved. Texas certainly has the potential to win the whole thing.
On the same side of the bracket, the Illinois-USC matchup brings with it a lot of intrigue. Illinois is on the decline, losing center Meyers Leonard and head coach Bruce Weber. The team hopes to have guard Brandon Paul back after recovering from a broken jaw. As for USC, things are looking up. The Trojans return guard Jio Fontan and center Dewayne Dedmon from injury. They’ll also have some decent transfers and freshmen making their debuts. After a terrible season in the Pac-12 last year, they may bounce back in a big way.
Losing Dee Bost and Arnett Moultrie will be tough for Mississippi St., and it remains to be seen if Renardo Sidney has matured into the leader that his team needs him to be. They will have no time to figure things out, as they start with North Carolina right off the bat. The Tar Heels will surely be ranked heading into the season despite losing nearly their entire starting five. No matter. Leslie McDonald, Dexter Strickland, P. J. Hairston, James Michael McAdoo, and Reggie Bullock all have the potential to step up in a big way. The depth for UNC is incredible.
Finally, we have the newest member of the A-10, Butler, taking on a retooled Marquette squad. After what was a rebuilding year last season, the Bulldogs look to be back with a stellar frontcourt and backcourt. Andrew Smith and Khyle Marshall man the paint while Chase Stigall and Chrishawn Hopkins are up top. The X-factor is Arkansas transfer Rotnei Clarke, a sharpshooter who can score from long range in bunches. Despite losing Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder, the Golden Eagles have a ton of talent returning. Vander Blue is primed for a breakout year. Todd Mayo looks to build off of freshman success. Davante Gardener will provide stability down low. Junior Cadougan has manned the point for so long and is a veteran. This will be the best first round matchup of the tournament.
Here are my predictions:
Butler over Marquette
North Carolina over Mississippi St.
Texas over Chaminade
USC over Illinois
North Carolina over Butler
Texas over USC
North Carolina over Texas
This looks to be another exciting tournament with great games involved. If there’s any early season tournament you watch this fall, I suggest it be the Maui Invitational.
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