November 23, 2009

Previewing the Maui Invitational

In just a couple of hours, the 2009 Maui Invitational will tip-off in Hawaii. For only the second time ever, the Wisconsin men's basketball team will be a part of the festivities. At 11 p.m. central time, UW will hit the court against an Arizona team coached by Sean Miller, whose Xavier team ended the Badgers season a year ago.

But, this tournament isn't just about Wisconsin and Arizona, therefore previews this version of the Maui Invitational.

GAME ONE: Colorado vs. Gonzaga: (2 p.m. central, ESPN2)

-Winner to take on the winner of the UW/Arizona game on Tuesday and losers play losers.

Quick look at Colorado: The Buffaloes are off to their best start since the 2001-02 season. At 3-0 on the year, CU is shooting over 55 percent from the field and has made at least one three pointer in each of the past 229 games. Against Texas Southern earlier this month, Colorado shot 60.8 percent from the field. It was the first time since 2008 that the Buffaloes reached that mark. Coach Jeff Bzdelik will not be in attendance after learning his mother fell ill in recent days.

Quick look at Gonzaga: The Bulldogs are fresh off a tight affair at No. 2 ranked Michigan State. They took the Spartans down to the wire before eventually losing by only four points. Though a loss is never as good as a win, the Bulldogs were able to learn some things about their team. After losing a load of talent from last season, they proved they were able to hang with an elite team and hope to continue that streak into the tournament in Maui.

Players to watch in this game: Cory Higgins from Colorado is averaging 23.3 points per game. He is joined by fellow teammate Alec Burks, who is averaging 18 ppg.

For Gonzaga, guard Matt Bouldin is pacing the team with 17.3 ppg while center Robert Sacre chips in 16.3 points per game and forward Elias Harris and guard Steven Gray each average in double figures as well.

GAME TWO: Cincinnati vs. Vanderbilt (4:30 p.m. central, ESPN2)

-Winner to take on the winner of the Chaminade/Maryland game on Tuesday and losers play losers.

Quick look at Cincinnati: The Bearcats, picked to finish seventh in the Big East prior to the season, head to Maui for first road trip of the season. After opening the season with a come from behind victory over Prarie View A&M and a blowout win over Toledo, the Bearcats hope to continue their winning streak in Maui. They will play the Commodores for seventh time in school history. Overall, they lead the series five games to one.

Quick look at Vanderbilt:: The Commodores return all but one player from last seasons 19-12 squad and welcome in talented freshman John Jenkins. By the end of the season a year ago, Vanderbilt was one of the hottest teams in the SEC as they won seven of the final 10 games in league play. However, that wasn't enough to reach the NCAA tournament, but regardless, the Commodores should play with plenty of confidence.

Players to watch in this game: Deonta Vaughn and Rashad Bishop each average 14 points per game for the Bearcats. For Vanderbilt, guards Jeffrey Taylor and Jermaine Beal do the heavy lifting with 19.5 and 16.5 points per game. Forward Andrew Walker has chipped in 11.5 so far as well.

GAME THREE: Chaminade vs. Maryland (8:30 p.m. central, ESPNU):

-Winner to take on the winner of the Cincy/Vandy game on Tuesday and losers play losers.

Quick look at Chaminade: As the host school, Chaminade is the only non-division one school in the bracket. Historically, the Silverswords have struggled in one of the nations premier early season tournaments. This season, they get to play Maryland in the opener. Last season, Chaminade finished the season with a 15-12 record.

Quick look at Maryland: With its win over New Hampshire last week, Maryland moved into the AP poll at No. 25 entering the tournament. They have started the year with three straight wins. Most of their success has started on the defensive side of the ball as opposing teams have averaged just 49.3 points per game on 31 percent shooting.

Players to watch in this game: Greivis Vasquez is one of the premier guards in the ACC and perhaps country. So far, though, he hasn't had to shoulder the burden. Instead, forward Landon Milbourne (16.7 ppg) and Sean Mosley (13.7 ppg) have done that.

GAME FOUR: Wisconsin vs. Arizona: 11 p.m. central, ESPN2)

-Winner to take on winner of Colorado/Gonzaga on Tuesday and losers play losers.

Quick look at Arizona:: The Wildcats have undergone a bit of a facelift in recent years. No longer is coach Lute Olson at the helm, instead Sean Miller (formerly of Xavier) has taken over the helm. Typically, the Wildcats possess incredibly athletic players and that should test the Badgers. Through two games, three Arizona players are scoring in double figures and forward Jamelle Horne nearly averages a triple double with 13.5 ppg and nine rebounds per.

Quick look at Wisconsin The Badgers have played suffocating defense in each of its two wins this season. Against Oakland, a team predicted to win its league and earn an NCAA bid, the Badgers held them to only 42 points on less than 30 percent shooting. Bo Ryan admits his teams might not always be the most athletic or talented team year in and year out, but when they play disciplined and within his structure, they succeed at a high level.

Players to watch in this game: For Arizona, the trio of Horne, Solomon Hill and Nic Wise, who each average well over 10 points per game. For Wisconsin, Jon Leuer and Trevon Hughes will take the Badgers as far as they go.


In tournaments where each team plays three games in three days, it is awfully hard to predict. One turned ankle or a bad bruise could derail a teams chances. Meanwhile, one upset or hot shooting player may be enough to propel a team to the championship.

That's what makes these things so fun. They are usually wide open. Here is my best shot at predicting what will happen in the opening round.

Opening round:

-Gonzaga defeats Colorado in a game decided by no less than 15 points.

-Vanderbilt defeats Cincinnati in a game down to the wire.

-Maryland defeats Chaminade by 20 or more.

-Wisconsin beats Arizona in a game decided down the stretch.

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