2008 Maui Invitational Preview

November 24, 2008 – 6:36 am by Ryan Phillips

As many of you know, I’m a lucky bastard. Every year in late November, I head to Maui with my family to spend Thanksgiving on the beach. But along with relaxing in paradise, we also make sure to attend the EA Sports Maui Invitational, which is easily the nation’s best preseason college basketball tournament. This year, as luck would have it, I secured a press credential for the day job, so my coverage from the three-day event will be even more comprehensive.

Today I’m here to give you a preview of what to look forward to from the teams involved, as well as a recap of some of the cool stuff from Sunday morning.

First, here’s a look at the teams competing:

St. Joseph’s Hawks (1-1)
Last season
Phil Martelli’s club reached the NCAA tournament in 2008 after a tough season in the Atlantic 10. The Hawks finished 21-13 overall and 9-7 in conference, but they managed to get to the A-10 title game, where they lost to Temple. That run propelled them into the NCAA’s where they lost to Oklahoma in the opening round.
Key player

St. Joe’s returns three starters, the most important of which is Ahmad Nivins. A two-time All-Atlantic 10 pick. Nivins averaged 14.4 points and 5.8 rebounds per game last season and at 6’9 is one of the best big men in the A-10. Nivins also makes his free throws (74.1 percent) and shoots an incredible 64.7 percent from the field. Expect him to get the ball a lot early.
Early observation
Phil Martelli is hilarious. He glad-handed everyone at the opening press conference and joked with the media and other coaches. Seems like a great guy who’s really enjoying the fact that he’s a college basketball coach in Maui and that this is considered “work.”
Opening game

Monday vs. Texas, ESPN 2, 3 p.m. Eastern
Coach’s quote
“I checked the Maui Invitational records, and no team has ever been shut out. We have a very good chance of being shut out because Texas has committed to defend. And for those that understand statistics, in their first two games, Texas has given up 11 assists. So what they are doing is absolutely phenomenal. And for all the Texas faithful, I have four very good seats to Detroit, so feel free to stop me in the lobby and I’ll help you out with anything you need for the Final Four, because that’s where I think Texas is heading.” – Phil Martelli

No. 8 Texas Longhorns (2-0)
Last season
Texas won a school-record 31 games, snatched a Big 12 title and went to the Elite 8. Not too shabby when you consider that Kevin Durant had just gone pro after being the consensus National Player of the Year. Thanks to an excellent year from All-American point guard D.J. Augustin, the Longhorns finished 31-7 overall and 13-3 in conference.
Key player
Texas returns four starters and nine of the top 10 scorers from last year’s team. Translation: They’re going to be dangerous. Senior A.J. Abrams is the top returning scorer in the Big 12 (16.5 ppg) and when you add in his experience, an improved 3-point shot (made 38.2 percent last year) and 1.6 steals per game you get a guy coach Rick Barnes can count on. He’ll have help from all over the floor but the team will look to Abrams for leadership in tight games.
Early observation
Rick Barnes is taking this tournament very seriously. He looked very focused at the press conference. His team’s path to a Maui title will likely go through St. Joe’s, Notre Dame and North Carolina. And from the look in his eyes, he thinks they can do it. A win in this tournament would serve national notice that Texas could be a big time contender this season.
Opening game
Monday vs. St. Joseph’s, ESPN 2, 3 p.m.
Coach’s quote
“I’ve got a lot of respect for Phil and what he’s done with St. Joe’s. You’ve got to be really impressed when you see the Hawk (St. Joe’s mascot) here. I was so impressed last night at the get together (the XBox Players Party) that thing never stopped moving.” – Rick Barnes

Indiana Hoosiers (2-0)
Last season

The debacle that was the Kelvin Sampson-era ended officially when Dan Dakich led the Hoosiers to a first round exit from the NCAA Tournament. The Hoosiers finished 25-8 overall and 14-4 in the Big Ten and before Sampson resigned, the team was poised for a deep NCAA Tournament run. After Dakich took over, the squad fell apart and dropped four of its last five games.
Key player
This season’s version of the Cream and Crimson has almost no size, thanks to the defection of virtually the entire roster. For the Hoosiers to accomplish anything this season, 6’8 freshman forward Tom Pritchard has to learn how to control the defensive boards. And fast. Through his first two collegiate games, the Ohio native is averaging 16 points and 10 rebounds. Those averages need to stay steady if Indiana hopes to compete at all this season.
Early observation
Judging by his tan, you’d think new head coach Tom Crean had been in Maui for a good six weeks. He’s also returning to the Maui Invitational for a second straight season. He took Marquette to a second place finish last year, as they lost to Duke in the final game, which I attended. Just a little side note, from that experience I learned that yes, in fact, Duke fans are just as annoying as they look on TV.
Opening game
Monday vs. Notre Dame, ESPN 2, 5 p.m.
Coach’s quote
“We know with our roster at Indiana, facing a team like Notre Dame, who we’re well familiar with from being against them at Marquette we will have our hands full. To say the very least. The biggest thing for our program right now is just to learn how to compete on a consistent and daily basis.” – Tom Crean.

No. 9 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (2-0)
Last season
The Irish play in what is likely the toughest conference in college basketball and last year they established themselves as a power within the Big East. They finished 25-8 overall and 14-4 in the Big East, showing that they could play with teams like UConn, Louisville, Georgetown, Pittsburgh and Marquette. They got fantastic seasons from second team All-American and Big East Player of the Year, Luke Harangody, and fellow first team All-Big East selection Kyle McAlarney. Both players return this year to finish what they started last season.
Key player
Both McAlarney and Harangody are important to Notre Dame’s attack, but “Gody” is a preseason All-American for a reason. His 20.4 points and 10.6 rebounds per game last season should improve this year. Through the team’s first two games he’s averaging 28.5 points and 15.5 rebounds per game. Don’t expect those numbers to drop after he faces Indiana on Monday. A potential matchup between Harangody and Tyler Hansbrough in the final game is what everyone was buzzing about at the press conference on Sunday morning.
Early observation
Mike Brey was the 2007 and 2008 Big East Coach of the Year, but he really looks like he’s amazed by his own success. He’s a little troll-like in appearance and maybe that’s why it seems that way, but it just didn’t look like he felt comfortable on the same stage as Rick Barnes, Tom Crean, Roy Williams, etc. He’s been very successful, but I get a “I’m just happy to be here” vibe off of him.
Opening game
Monday vs. Indiana, ESPN 2, 3 p.m.
Coach’s quote
“Last time I was here – I looked up at the Champions Board – 1992, this guy (pointing to Jay Bilas) and I were assistants at Duke University. Basically we were just in charge of getting the pizzas for Coach K in the film sessions.”- Mike Brey

No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels (3-0)
Last season

The Tar Heels were one of the favorites to win the whole thing and they fell short, dropping their Final Four matchup with eventual champion Kansas. It was still what you might call a successful season for Roy Williams’ team though. The Heels finished 36-3 overall and 14-2 in the ACC. They swept the ACC regular season and conference titles for the second straight year.
Key player
It’s hard for a team that goes 12-deep to have one single key player, but everyone knows that North Carolina is led by Tyler Hansbrough. The 6’9 senior is the first consensus National Player of the Year to return to college since Shaquille O’Neal in 1991-92. He’s been bothered by a leg injury early this season, but expecting anything less than the 22.6 points and 10.2 rebounds he averaged last year would be foolish. He came back to UNC to win a championship, and Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green all pulled their names out of the NBA Draft pool for the same reason. They’ll be plenty motivated after missing out last year.
Early Observation
Roy was very relaxed at Sunday’s press conferene. He’s got the “Yeah, I’m fully aware that my team is far superior to anyone else right now” look on his face. He joked with the media, made fun of some of his players and basically gave off the vibe that this is North Carolina’s tournament and the rest of the teams are just here on vacation. Oh, also, injured senior forward Mike Copeland won the XBox Players Party NCAA March Madness 2009 tournament on Saturday night.
Opening game
Monday vs. Chaminade, ESPN U, 4:30 p.m.
Coach’s quote
“Mike Copeland should have won the thing last night. He had ACL surgery, hasn’t practiced one frickin’ day, so he better be doing something. It sorta bothers me because the guy he beat (in the final) was Ty Lawson and he’s supposed to be practicing basketball.” – Roy Williams

Chaminade Silverswords (0-0)
Last season
Yes, I’m going to recap last season for the Silverswords because it was a banner year for them. They upset Princeton at the Maui Invitational on their way to a second Pac West Championship in three years. They broke the school record for wins (21) and qualified for the Division II NCAA Tournament for only the second time in school history. Unfortunately, they lost six seniors, four of whom started last year.
Key player
Senior guard Darrell Birton redshirted last season after starting in 2006-07 and averaging 7.4 points per game. He’s the only real experience back for the Silverswords, but they are bringing in three Division I transfers.
Early observation
Coach Matt Mahar has done a fantastic job with this program in his three short years in charge. He also had the best form on his free throws of all the coaches during the Coaches Charity Free Throw Contest (pictured below).
Opening game
Monday vs. North Carolina, ESPN U, 4:30 p.m.
Coach’s quote
“We already played North Carolina twice last night (in the XBox competition) and lost by about 45 points combined. So, I’m hoping that doesn’t happen in the first half alone.” – Matt Mahar

Oregon Ducks (2-1)
Last Season
No one really knows what happened to the Ducks last year. They were supposed to be loaded and at the beginning of the year they were a sleeper pick to make a run at the Final Four. Instead they finished 18-14 overall, 9-9 in the Pac 10 and went home after losing to Mississippi State in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. Guards Malik Hairston and Bryce Taylor and forward Maarty Leunen are all gone, and a young team replaces them.
Key Player
Tajuan Porter is incredible. Not that he’s an out-of-this-world talent or anything, but the fact that he’s a 5’6 shooting guard who can actually get his shot off, is amazing. Only a junior, Porter could become the school’s career leader in 3-pointers. He’s already made 193 entering the year and needs only 90 this season to pass Orlando William’s mark of 282. Porter is a career 40 percent shooter from beyond the arc and Oregon will need every bit of that percentage (and a 3-5 percent increase wouldn’t hurt) if they’re going to compete in a loaded Pac 10 this year.
Early observation
Head coach Ernie Kent had, by far, the worst form on his free throws at the charity event. In fact, his first attempt shot off the side of the backboard and almost killed this blogger as I tried to photograph the event for your viewing pleasure. Thanks Ernie, really appreciate it. Also, the Ducks have a player named Frantz Dorsainvil on their roster. I’d make fun of him, but he’s a 6’8, 260-pound native of Haiti and from what I hear that’s a really awful place. And he had to actually live there for a time.
Opening game
Monday vs. Alabama, ESPN 2, Midnight
Coach’s quote
“We’re privileged to be here. I have a young basketball team. Six freshmen, all of them will play at some point in time. I think from a coaching perspective this time of year you talk about playing hard, physical and being big and strong and all of those things. They’re going to get a great taste of what this is all about because this is an unbelievable field up here.” – Ernie Kent

Alabama Crimson Tide (1-1)
Last season
Alabama had a rough go last season. Star point guard Ronald Steele was forced to redshirt what was supposed to be his senior year, due to double knee surgery at the end of his junior season. The Tide soldiered on without their leader and limped to a 17-16 record overall and a 5-11 record in the SEC. That was despite the efforts of Richard Hendrix, who averaged 17.8 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. Hendrix, obviously tired of carrying an entire team on his back, declared for the NBA Draft and was taken 49th overall by the Golden State Warriors.
Key player
The Crimson Tide will go as far as Ronald Steele can take them this year. He began practicing with the team again in January, so he won’t need time to adjust back into playing form. The question will be if his creaky knees can hold up. If they can, there’s no reason to expect that he’ll be anything less than one of the best floor leaders in the country. He’s always been the type of point guard that makes everyone else around him better and makes sure they know where they’re supposed to be and what they’re supposed to be doing. There are some talented young guys on this squad, so if he’s right, he’ll help coach Mark Gottfried out tremendously.
Early observation
Gottfried seemed like a likeable guy, but he was very quiet, almost shy of the spotlight. It was kind of refreshing in this day and age. He looked like he’d never been to a press conference before. Also, according to the Alabama Media Guide, the Crimson Tide’s team Orthopedist is Dr. James Andrews. That. Is. AWESOME.
Opening game
Monday vs. Oregon, ESPN 2, Midnight
Coach’s quote
“As soon as you tell people that you’re going to play in this tournament, there’s an unbelievable amount of respect and prestige that comes along with saying that we’re playing in the Maui Invitational.” – Mark Gottfried

Now, here are some pictures from Sunday’s events – the press conference and the charity free throw competition.

Jay Bilas served as moderator of the press conferance.

Jay Bilas served as moderator of the press conferance.

Indiana head coach Tom Crean, looking unseasonably tan.

Indiana head coach Tom Crean, looking unseasonably tan.

Martelli heckling the media. He kept lobbying for extra shots and we were just keeping him honest.

Martelli heckling the media. He kept lobbying for extra shots and we were just keeping him honest.

Barnes showed decent form.

Barnes showed decent form.

Crean was nearly perfect from the stripe

Crean was nearly perfect from the stripe.

Brey had nice form but looked far too tense with his shot. I mean look at his face.

Brey had nice form but looked far too tense with his shot. I mean look at his face.

A North Carolina beat writer leaned over to me after this shot and said that in six years of covering Williams, he had never seen him shoot a basketball.

A North Carolina beat writer leaned over to me after this shot and said that in six years of covering Roy Williams, he had never seen him shoot a basketball.

Chaminade's Matt Mahar was easily the best shooter of the bunch.

Chaminade’s Matt Mahar was easily the best shooter of the bunch.

Seconds after this was taken, the ball hit the side of the backboard and nearly killed me. Laugh it up Ernie.

Seconds after this was taken, the ball hit the side of the backboard and nearly killed me. Laugh it up Ernie.

Mark Gottfriend rounded out the shooting with a solid performance.

Mark Gottfriend rounded out the shooting with a solid performance.

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  1. 5 Responses to “2008 Maui Invitational Preview”

  2. Mike Copeland is the man. Let it be known.

    By Yes on Nov 24, 2008

  3. I really like Tom Crean’s form hahahaha. And nice rundown of the teams.

    By SM on Nov 24, 2008

  4. Nice photos Philips!
    All the Best for Maui invitational!

    Ricky

    By Anime on Nov 25, 2008

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