It’s the best field in the history of the Maui Invitational, but still, only one team can finish first. Who will take this year’s championship in Hawaii?
- Gonzaga (2-0)
- Kansas (3-0)
- Marquette (3-0)
- Purdue (3-0)
- Syracuse (3-0)
- Tennessee (3-0)
- UCLA (3-0)
First Round (Monday, Nov. 20)
- Syracuse vs. #7 Tennessee – 2:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
- #11 Gonzaga vs. #2 Purdue – 5 p.m. (ESPN2)
- Chaminade vs. #1 Kansas – 9 p.m. (ESPNU)
- UCLA vs. #4 Marquette – 11:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
The host of the Maui Invitational, Chaminade is looking to pull off an improbably upset over #1 Kansas. While the chances of that happening are next to none, the Silverswords have won eight games in the history of the event. Their last win was in 2017 by 24 points over Cal. They’ve never won more than a game in the tournament.
This year’s team is off to a 1-2 start. They are shooting it around 35% from three as a team, with three players hitting over 43% of their attempts from long range. Unless they get hot in any of their three games, it will be an 0-3 record against this loaded field.
This isn’t the same dominant Gonzaga team we’re used to and part of that is learning how to play without Drew Timme. We also don’t really know a whole lot about the Zags, because they’ve only played one DI team to this point. Still, Braden Huff, Anton Watson, and Graham Ike are off to hot starts. It looks like the forward play for the Bulldogs should be tremendous.
On the flip side, the Zags need answers in the backcourt. Nolan Hickman and Ryan Nembhard are playing well, but the Zags lack a guard who can take over a game. We will see if one of them can develop into that throughout the season.
The Jayhawks are the best of the best in this field. While Kansas struggled to get past Kentucky, they’ve been playing outstanding team basketball, averaging close to 30 assists per game. Hunter Dickinson has been everything and more for this team and freshman Elmarko Jackson has played unselfishly so far. The Jayhawks are not even close to where they will be in February and March, which is a scary thought.
The Golden Eagles are led by Tyler Kolek, but Shaka Smart’s squad takes more of a team approach. Some days, it’s Kolek. On other days, Kam Jones will lead the team in scoring. If David Joplin gets hot, Marquette will feed him. The three-headed monster for Marquette makes them one of the toughest teams to defend. On the inside, Oso Ighodaro keeps teams honest. He will be the x-factor going forward for a team with National Championship aspirations.
Who in the country can guard Zach Edey? The Purdue big man is the face of college basketball and has played like it so far, averaging 20.7 PPG and 10.0 RPG to start the season. The biggest question facing the Boilermakers is which guards can raise their level of play and keep Purdue from losing early in March. So far, Braden Smith’s distributing has been excellent, but the Boilermakers are still looking for Edey’s true scoring sidekick.
Adrian Autry has a very intriguing team led by Judah Mintz and JJ Starling. It’s not crazy to say they may be the best – or at least most underrated – backcourt in the Maui Invitational. The Orange as a program has also never lost a game in the Maui. Can that streak continue against the best field in tournament history? Naheem McLeod will have to play tougher down low, but the talent is oozing in Central New York.
It’s hard to believe that Tennessee, a top-10 team, is the fourth-highest-ranked team in the Maui Invitational. Any other year, the Vols may be the favorite, or second-best team in this tournament. Santiago Vescovi and Zakai Zeigler aren’t even doing much, and that’s because Dalton Knecht is off to a scorching hot start – and still not even hitting many of his threes. The Vols have so many pieces, forming one of the deepest teams in the country.
Adem Bona was the clear top returning player for the Bruins and so far, no one else has really asserted themselves. Sebastian Mack is second on the team in scoring but has struggled from the field. Dylan Andrew is shooting lights out, so as the season goes on, he could be a name to watch. If anything, the Maui Invitational will help the Bruins for a difficult Pac-12 season. This is a team that will improve and find an identity as the season goes on.
Maui Invitational Predictions
First round: Syracuse vs. Tennessee
Tennessee has a very well-rounded team, but I’m calling upset right away here. Mintz and Starling are the better backcourt, and the Vols don’t have a difference-maker inside. Jonas Aidoo can certainly outmuscle Naheem McLeod, but I’m not sure if he can change the game inside. The Orange also have a deep team and showed against Colgate how potent their offense can be if it catches fire.
First round: Gonzaga vs. Purdue
The Zags forwards have started the season playing very well, but Zach Edey is a matchup nightmare. It’s also about time someone else on Purdue steps up and has a big game beside Edey. For a Zags team still a few weeks away from figuring out their identity, I like the more seasoned team in November, which is the Boilermakers.
First round: Chaminade vs. Kansas
This would be an awesome upset for college basketball fans, but it’s not going to happen. I don’t need to explain myself, either.
First round: UCLA vs. Marquette
It’s the late game and UCLA (along with Gonzaga) is probably dealing with the time zone change the best. Adem Bona could also have the edge against Ighodaro in the paint. However, UCLA’s guards aren’t potent enough to keep up with the Golden Eagles’ scoring. It might be a closer game than most people expect, but Marquette will advance either way.
Semifinals: Syracuse vs. Purdue
This is a game in which Edey can exploit the SU big men and dominate. He’s just too smart of a player and would likely get McLeod in foul trouble and overpower an otherwise thin Cuse frontcourt. The Orange do have an advantage in other areas of the course, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Edey puts together a 30/15 game.
Semifinals: Kansas vs. Marquette
In a championship game feel, Kansas and Marquette is a game I’m sure most fans interested in the Maui Invitational would love to watch. They both have what it takes to win the National Championship and right now in November, I’ve got to side with the Golden Eagles. Tyler Kolek is vastly underrated and if he is 100% healthy, he’s the best player on the court. As long as Ighodaro doesn’t get totally outplayed by Dickinson, that is.
Championship Game: Purdue vs. Marquette
Another potential Final Four matchup, Midwest meets Midwest in the Maui Invitational. And again, I’m siding with the more complete team. Is Marquette perfect? Not quite. The bench needs work and Edey does have an advantage here. But overall, Shaka Smart’s bunch has what it takes to take down the nation’s best center. It’s a team game, and the Golden Eagles are the top overall team in this tournament.