By its extremely lofty standards, this year’s Maui Invitational is rather light fare, though still one of the kings of the in-season tournaments.
Maui is always a highlight of November and Thanksgiving week, dating back to its emergence in the late 1980s, and the tourney opened yesterday with quarterfinals. The best game of the four was the last one, as old WAC and Mountain West rivals San Diego State and BYU went at it good deep into the night for us on the mainland.
You might say the Cougars won the battle, getting the game’s tempo to their liking, but the Aztecs won the war, with a 92-87 overtime win. This was an outstanding game with a charged up atmosphere at the Lahaina Civic Center, and a reminder once again of just what we are missing with the splintering of Utah and BYU from the Mountain West/old WAC.
In other quarterfinals, Kansas State rebounded nicely from its loss at Long Beach State, holding off Purdue 88-79 in a game that featured quality offense and less defense, especially in the second half. Arizona needed some time but eventually pulled away from Missouri 72-53 and Pittsburgh also pulled away from Chaminade late for a 81-68 win.
- Eastern Washington defeating Indiana 88-86 at Assembly Hall was terrific, not just for upset value but also entertainment. The Eagles were simply the better team down the stretch on the road, hitting one cold-blooded shot after another. EWU has some really nice players and had three with at least 20 (Drew Brandon a career-high 27; Tyler Harvey, 25; the delightfully named Venky Jois, 20). And the Eagles did it without a heavy dose of long bombs (just six three-pointers, more than five off their average) though several of the makes came late and were HUGE. The Hoosiers led by 12 early in the second half but couldn’t hold on despite 27 from Yogi Farrell, who was fantastic. And yes, winning at Indiana is still a big deal for a team like EWU, even when the Hoosiers are down.
- Seton Hall has an in-season tournament title after defeating Illinois State 84-80 to win the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands. A game effort and a good tournament overall for ISU, which fell behind by 21 in the first half but kept battling all the way. But the Redbirds had no answer for Sterling Gibbs, who had a downright sensational performance with 40 points, including seven three-pointers and hitting 13 of 13 free throw attempts. He set the tone as the Pirates made 12 of 18 from three-point range.
- Also, a credible effort by Alabama in its 84-74 loss to Iowa State. The Tide hung tough the whole way. Rodney Cooper scored 27 for Alabama, but Georges Niang was one point better (28) for the Cyclones. ISU will face Maryland in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic final after the Terps edged Arizona State 78-73.
- Villanova and VCU at the Legends Classic was an excellent game for a half. In fact, it looked like the Rams were starting to assert themselves late in the first half. And then Villanova utterly dominated the second half, going on to a 77-53 win. The Wildcats played big inside, winning the rebounding battle (39-32) and with more points in the paint (42-30 edge) and got 36 points form their bench. The Rams, meanwhile, came up small from outside, shooting 2-for-17 from behind the arc. Big statement win for Villanova after some sluggish performances.
- It’s often hard to keep all these four-team made-for-TV “classics” separated, but we do know Michigan’s 70-63 win over Oregon was the second game of the Legends Classic. Zak Irvin (19 points) continues his good start for the Go Blue. A better win than people may think for Michigan.
- You’re not hearing a whole lot about them yet, and we can’t get too excited until they actually play a road game, but Xavier has looked really, really good in its first four games. The Musketeers are now 4-0 after throttling a decent Murray State team 89-62. X overwhelmed the Racers on the glass (56-23), is looking very comfortable pushing the pace, and has some terrific inside-outside balance. Get to know the name Trevon Blueitt, who looks like a star so far, as the freshman is averaging better than 18 points through four games.
- Baylor took care of Stephen F. Austin 67-51. The Bears’ zone and size were the difference. Royce O’Neale had 19 points and a career-high 14 boards, and Rico Gathers added 11 boards. By playing its zone, Baylor also took away a big part of the Lumberjacks’ strength on offense-their constant motion and cutting-and SFA shot just 33% from the field. Don’t read much into their 1-3 record against a tough schedule so far; the Jacks are working some new players in but will continue to improve.
- Not surprisingly-at least from here-Iowa got a good challenge from Pepperdine but held on for a 72-61 win. Aaron White had 17 points and nine rebounds for the Hawkeyes, who handed the Waves (3-1) their first loss.
- Belmont held off Lipscomb 82-77 to complete a sweep of those two teams’ home-and-home in the Battle of the Boulevard in Nashville, one of the better unknown rivalries in the country. Craig Bradshaw had 29 for the Bruins.
- The Gulf Coast Showcase is among the newest eight-team in-season tourneys. This year’s field might be described as “mediocre with upside.” In Monday’s quarterfinals, Wisconsin-Green Bay dumped East Carolina 66-49, Evansville topped Fresno State 58-52, Florida Gulf Coast handled Marist 58-43 and San Francisco outscored Hawaii 88-73.
- A call to Tulsa, which completely shut down Auburn 53-35 in an ugly one. The Golden Hurricane now have a chance to make a claim for some semblance of state supremacy (they did already lose to city rival Oral Roberts). Tulsa faces Oklahoma State in the MGM Grand Main Event final after OSU defeated another OSU-Oregon State-66-53.
- San Diego pinned Western Michigan with its first loss, holding off the Broncos 77-70 at the Jenny Craig Pavilion, a.k.a. the Slim Gym. USD shot a spiffy 56%.
- New Jacksonville coach Tony Jasick took his team back to his old stomping grounds at IPFW. Jasick has a rebuilding project with the Dolphins, who were defeated 89-71 by the Mastodons.
- Finally, Louisville beat Savannah State 87-26. The only reaction to a game like this is: why? The Tigers were scoreless until late in the first half and trailed 41-7 at halftime. Nothing is proven, we learned absolutely nothing new about either team in a game like this. And if we’re going to have 61-point blowouts, then at least let’s see the losing team score in the 50s.
- The 2015 and 2016 Maui Invitational fields are set. Next year’s field in particular is like the start of a roll call of historic college hoops programs: Indiana, Kansas, St. John’s, UCLA, UNLV, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest plus Chaminade. The 2016 tourney includes Chaminade, Connecticut, Georgetown, North Carolina, Oklahoma State, Oregon, Tennessee and Wisconsin.
- Tennessee assistant coach Adam Howard has resigned for personal reasons, according to the school, though other reports are that it could be related to a role in violations committed under Donnie Tyndall while at Southern Misssippi.
Maui Invitational Semifinals Kansas State vs. Arizona, Pittsburgh vs. San Diego State It looks like a collision course for an Arizona/SDSU final, but it would be silly to count out either of the underdogs.
Michigan vs. Villanova Legends Classic final. Best game of the day on paper.
Arkansas at SMU The Razorbacks won this one last year and have looked good early. The Mustangs are home after some tough road games. Also, that SMU win over Eastern Washington the other day now looks a little bit better.
Gulf Coast Showcase Semifinals Wisconsin Green Bay vs. Evansville, San Francisco vs. Florida Gulf Coast. Hardly marquee names, but some interesting teams in the semis. Evansville is improved this year-D.J. Balentine is receiving some much-needed scoring help-while San Francisco has been impressive in winning its first three games.
Nebraska-Omaha at Nebraska First off, good for Nebraska playing this game, which is suddenly considerably more interesting after the Mavericks knocked off Marquette on Saturday. Let’s see if UNO can keep up its play on Saturday, or if there’s a bit of a letdown after being on Cloud Nine.
Miami (Fla.) at UNC-Charlotte These two are meeting for the second time in three days. Miami won the first game, and it’s obvious by now that the Hurricanes are off to a good start. Let’s see what adjustments UNCC makes. One that Coach Alan Major no doubt will be insisting on: less turnovers. The 49ers had 19 in the first meeting, and it was essentially the difference in the game.
Iowa State vs. Maryland Hall of Fame Classic final Cyclones should be the better team here, but a good opportunity for the Terps.
Northern Iowa vs. Virginia Tech Part of the Cancun Challenge in Mexico. One can’t imagine Buzz Williams standing for how the Hokies lost to Appalachian State. While it wouldn’t be a marquee win, this is another important game for UNI when it comes to potential at-large consideration at the end of the season. The Panthers have a schedule that is tailor-made for building up equity with the selection committee.
Have a terrific Tuesday.