Once again, I’m lucky enough to be courtside at the EA Sports Maui Invitational, the nation’s premiere preseason college basketball tournament. I’ll be giving you updates throughout the day, giving you glimpses of what it’s like behind the scenes here and analyzing the games as they happen.
While the teams involved in this year’s tournament aren’t as highly ranked as in typical years (only No. 22 Maryland and No. 24 Vanderbilt are ranked), the competition is sure to be great. There is a lot of youth in this year’s group, combined with a few teams that are right on the edge of making a push nationally.
All the games in Maui will be on ESPN’s family of networks.
Gonzaga 76, Colorado 72
Before tip-off the press was alerted to the news that Buffaloes head coach Jeff Bzdelik would miss the tournament. He was forced to fly home Sunday afternoon after receiving news that his mother had fallen ill. We wish her a speedy recovery.
This has been an excellent opening game so far. While on paper Gonzaga and Maryland seemed destined to meet in the championship game this year, Colorado has taken it to the Zags early. The Buffs took a 40-29 lead into halftime, using a balanced attack and forcing Gonzaga to shoot jumpers.
Colorado had four players score seven or more points in the opening half, while Gonzaga was led by Steven Gray’s 14 points.
Gonzaga’s Matt Bouldin is the best player on floor in this game. The 6’5 senior guard reminds me a lot of Kirk Hinrich. He’s much bigger and stronger than he looks, is constantly looking to get his teammates involved, plays physical defense and can hit a mid-range jumper or step out and bury a three. He’s also got a great handle and doesn’t shy away from contact.
Gonzaga made a nice run to start this half off. But Colorado has just answered everything the Zags have thrown at them. With 11:46 left, the Buffs are still hanging on to a 56-47 lead.
With 9:34 left, Gonzaga’s Steven Gray hit a 3-pointer from the right corner to cut the lead to 56-52. Big momentum push for the Bulldogs. A lot of Gonzaga fans made the trip and they are rocking the Lahaina Civic Center.
A great comeback by the Zags. They came away with a 76-72 win after just simply outplaying Colorado down the stretch. The Buffs look like they’ll have a solid team but they couldn’t close this one out despite tons of opportunities to put the Bulldogs away. Gray and Bouldin came up big for Gonzaga and I assume we’ll be seeing that a lot this year. Bouldin finished with 21, five rebounds and five assists, while Gray led all scorers with 27 points.
Cincinnati 67, No. 24 Vanderbilt 58
I had a chance to talk to Jay Bilas between games and he thinks Vanderbilt and Gonzaga are the teams to beat at this tournament. Surprising that he doesn’t think Maryland is good enough to contend.
Vandy vs. Cincy should be interesting. Vanderbilt returns its top 11 players, while Cincy has the explosive Deonta Vaughn and the pre-season Big East rookie of the year in Lance Stephenson.
Interesting sidenote from the coaches’ press conference yesterday: Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin mentioned that he hoped he could get a little revenge on Vanderbilt, since he applied there years ago and was rejected. Vandy coach Kevin Stallings countered by saying that he had also been rejected when he applied to Vanderbilt, and that apparently he wasn’t smart enough to be a student there but was smart enough to be the head basketball coach.
I’ve decided this is definitely the most sparsely attended game I’ve seen in the six years I’ve been at this tournament. I guess the economy probably has something to do with that.
Cincinnati is off to a fast, 14-6 lead with 12 minutes left in the first half. They’re fast, athletic and strong. Basically just like every other Bearcats team we’ve seen over the past two decades. If Vanderbilt just weathers this early storm, they could make a comeback by just playing solid, limiting turnovers and rebounding well. Cincinnati will definitely come back down to Earth at some point.
Make that 18-6 with 10:45 left. Super-frosh Lance Stephenson certainly looks the part, but he tends to wander and drift around on the floor. I’m sure he’ll figure things out, he’s too talented not to eventually.
This is turning into a yawner. Cincy still up 27-13 with 7:30 left in the opening half and Vanderbilt hasn’t shown anything offensively.
The more I look at Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings the more I realize he looks shockingly like character actor John Carroll Lynch. Check this out: Stallings is here, Lynch is here. I can’t be the first person to have noticed this. Oh, and it’s 36-24 Cincinnati at the half. After the intensity of the Gonzaga-Colorado game this one has definitely been a letdown.
At the under-12 timeout, Cincinnati still leads 45-36. Vanderbilt keeps looking like its about to make a run but just can’t put together back-to-back solid possessions on both ends. The Commodores are a solid squad, they just seem a little flat.
Lance Stephenson finally showed up. He had a sick steal and ended the play with an incredibly athletic finish over two defenders. Then a few possessions later he skied about 12 and a half feet in the air to grab a rebound. It was incredible how high he got. He looked like a character from NBA Jam circa 1997. That said, just four points, three rebounds and two steals for Stephenson to this point.
With 7:21 left, Cincinnati still leads 52-39.
So far the most impressive players in this game have been Cincinnati’s Yancy Gates and Dion Dixon. Gates, who made the Big East All-Rookie team last year controls the paint. He’s a solid 6’9, 260-pound sophomore with great athleticism. He’s also a tough guy in there and is willing to get physical if he needs to.
Dixon had to play major minutes in the first half after Vaughn picked up two quick fouls, and he’s continued to play solidly throughout. The 6’3 sophomore guard has 12 points and eight rebounds with 6:05 remaining in the game. Not spectacular but very solid.
With 5:33 left, Vaughn nailed a 3-pointer off a ball reversal to make the score 58-43. Looks like he iced the game with that one. Vanderbilt hasn’t shown enough firepower to be able to bounce back from a deficit of this size.
With 3:21 left, Cincinnati leads 60-52. Vanderbilt has closed the gap but I still don’t think the Commodores will be able to get much closer. Unless the Bearcats completely gag this one away, they’ll be moving on.
And we’ve gone final, a nice 67-58 win for the Bearcats. Gates was clearly the man for Cincy, he finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Vandy tried to come back but just couldn’t solve the Bearcats’ athleticism.
No. 22 Maryland 79, Chaminade 51
Do I really have to write about this game? Maryland is going to hammer the local favorites simply because of depth and, well, talent. Forgive me if updates from this one are sparse, sometimes there’s just not much to say.
With 5:52 left in the game, Jin Soo Choi – the first Korean player to earn a scholarship in Division I basketball, found James Padgett for a layup, 65-42 Maryland leads.
Sophomore Sean Mosley has been Maryland’s best player, dropping in 19 points and grabbing six rebounds to this point. Greivis Vasquez, the self-proclaimed face of the ACC hasn’t done much and was less than impressive. Vasquez has nine points and six assists.
Maryland cruised to a 79-51 win over the Silverswords, setting up a meeting with Cincinnati tomorrow in one semi-final. Not much to say about this one. It went exactly as everyone thought it would. Moving on.
Wisconsin 65, Arizona 61
Wisconsin jumped out fast in this one. Arizona clearly has talent but in a new system, with new players it’s going to take the Wildcats a while to get things together. It’s 27-18 Badgers at the under-four minute timeout.
Arizona is pushing their way back into this one. I really like the way Sean Miller coaches. He has a ton of energy and his players clearly respond to it. He’s also constantly working the officials, which, as a former player, I totally appreciate.B
Well, this was an interesting half. Arizona finished 5-21 from the field, yet they’re still very much in the game. Wisconsin did what it always does. The Badgers are just so systematic. They may be boring, but give Bo Ryan credit, his team plays exactly the same way every year, no matter what the personnel is like.
Wisconsin takes a 31-21 lead into the break.
Both teams are having issues offensively. The officials have been calling tons of fouls all day and this game is continuing that trend. With 14:45 left, Derrick Williams worked for a nice layup, which was just Arizona’s seventh field goal of the game. 38-34 Wisconsin.
With 13:48 left, Wisconsin gets a timeout with a 38-34 lead. This game has hit a wall in the second half. I think the jet-lag must be getting to both teams, as it’s almost 2 a.m. eastern.
Arizona’s athletic ability is getting them back into this game. The Badgers are simply being out manned on the boards and they aren’t taking good shots. Under 12 timeout, Wisconsin still up 43-38.
Wisconsin’s Jon Leuer just fouled out with 9:42 left in the game. Awful, awful game for him. Four points, two rebounds for Leuer and he made a huge mistake on the last foul. Arizona’s Derrick Williams is really showing me something. He’s been aggressive and forced Wisconsin to guard and foul him all night long. 21 points and five boards for the freshman so far, 45-43 Wisconsin.
With 8:21 left, Arizona freshman Solomon Hill put back a miss to tie the game at 45. Hill was the No. 27 overall player in the 2009 recruiting class according to rivals.com and he finally showed up to make a nice play there. He’s a 6’6 guard/forward who can bring the ball up the floor if needed. Seems to have a solid idea of what he’s doing on the floor but hasn’t really looked to complete plays tonight and use his ability to score.
7:18 remaining and Derrick Williams did it again. He worked free for a lay-in and gave the Wildcats their first lead of the game, 47-45. Williams has 23 points and six boards so far.
With 4:16 to go, Wisconsin is up 54-53. Trevon Hughes has tried to take over the game for the Badgers but he’s ma de a few bad decisions. This lineup clearly doesn’t have much scoring punch for Wisconsin, so Hughes is trying to do everything by himself. He needs help from someone or this game could slip away.
3:01 to go and we’re at the final media timeout of the night. Nic Wise just had a gorgeous drive and dish to Williams for a dunk to put Arizona up 55-54. This game has been ugly but has turned out to be very competitive down the stretch. I can’t say enough about how well Derrick Williams has played: 25 points for the freshman on 6-of-6 shooting from the field to go along with a 13-for-21 performance from the free throw line.
Timeout Arizona with 1:25 left. Some other players have finally gotten involved to help Hughes. Keaton Nankivil just finished off a nice breakaway opportunity. Man can that guy jump. 59-55 Wisconsin.
Nankivil just had another insane follow and finish dunk. Man is he athletic for a 6’8, 240-pound white guy. After some free throws by Jason Bohannon, Jamelle Horne hit a deep, clutch 3-pointer. 63-61 Wisconsin with 8.6 seconds left.
A horrible miss by Nankivil on his second free throw and a loose ball was taken away by Hughes. That led to a jump ball and the arrow pointed to the Badgers. They’ve got the ball and a 64-61 lead with 3.2 seconds left and Hughes headed back to the line.
Not a pretty game at all but Wisconsin got the job done, 65-61 win for the Badgers. I have to say, Arizona has a really bright future. With Hill and Williams they’ve got an incredible young tandem that will only get better. Williams finished with 25 points, eight rebounds and three steals. Hill had just seven points and seven boards but he’ll improve.
For Wisconsin, Trevon Hughes led the way with 24 points, seven rebounds, three assists, four steals and two blocks.
Just a side note: There were 55 fouls called in this game. Here’s hoping the officials calm down tomorrow and let the kids play.
That’s all for today from Maui. I’ll be back tomorrow for the winners’ bracket games as Maryland faces Cincinnati and Gonzaga matches up with Wisconsin.