While the 2012 Maui Invitational Field may not be as top-heavy as in recent years, those who make the trip to Hawaii in November will still see a handful of talented teams with postseason aspirations.
Mississippi State, North Carolina, Texas, and Illinois all had underclassmen selected in this year's NBA Draft, which has hurt the talent pool and preseason expectations of these teams. Marquette had two seniors selected in the second round, while Butler lost players to the draft the previous two seasons.
As always, Chaminade is the tournament's host, and as a Divison II school is the only non-power conference team in the field besides Butler who recently moved to the Atlantic 10. The tournament's preliminary games start November 9th, while the team's will play in Maui from November 19th-21st.
As a tuneup for the Maui Invitational, each participating school other than Chaminade hosts a game which is technically part of the tournament. Even if one of the teams participating in Maui loses, which I don't foresee happening, they still automatically make the Maui field. Illinois will host the tournament's first opening game at Assembly Hall, pictured above.
Illinois over Colgate
USC over Coppin State
Butler over Elon
Marquette over Colgate
North Carolina over Florida Atlantic
Texas over Coppin State
Mississippi State over Florida Atlantic
The four schools that were used in these preliminary games will then partake in a regional tournament at Elon on November 17th and 18th, but will not travel to Maui.
Elon over Colgate
Coppin State over Florida Atlantic
Colgate over Florida Atlantic (3rd Place)
Elon over Coppin State (Championship)
The Marquette and Butler game should be the best matchup on day one, and is the first game that will be played in Maui. Butler's frontcourt of Andrew Smith and Khyle Marshall could pose a problem for the undersized Golden Eagles, but Arizona State transfer Trent Lockett was a key addition for Marquette. Marquette also gets Chris Otule back in their frontcourt after missing most of 2011-12.
North Carolina and Texas should take care of both Mississippi State and Chaminade, respectively, in the middle of day one. Although the Tar Heels were hit hard by the NBA Draft, losing four starters, Mississippi State also lost Arnett Moultrie and Renardo Sidney early. Chaminade should be no match for Texas, while the Illinois-USC game has the potential to be an ugly one, as both team's struggled to score at times last year.
Marquette over Butler
North Carolina over Mississippi State
Texas over Chaminade
Illinois over USC
After playing the favorite to win the tournament on day one, Mississippi State will have to play the top team in the loser's bracket on day two regardless of who wins the Butler-Marquette game. In a battle of the Bulldogs, Butler comes out victorious. Chaminade will then give USC all they can handle, but will fall late to the Trojans.
Marquette and North Carolina then meet in the Semifinals, a game filled with talented players. In the end, PJ Hairston, James Michael McAdoo, and Dexter Strickland will be too much for Lockett, Davante Gardner, and Vander Blue to handle. Texas will then defeat Illinois in what could be a rebuilding year for both programs. Illinois has seniors in Brandon Paul and DJ Richardson, who have underachieved in their careers, while Myck Kabongo's decision to come back to Texas was a good one.
Butler over Mississippi State
USC over Chaminade
North Carolina over Marquette
Texas over Illinois
Mississippi State's luck finally changes on the last day in Maui, defeating host Chaminade and giving them yet another last-place finish at their own tournament. Butler then beats USC in a grind it out type of game to win the loser's bracket and finish with a 2-1 record at Maui.
In a game that would have sibling rivalry implications for me, my Fighting Illini fall to Marquette in a close game. For once, Marquette's frontcourt is to their advantage as Gardner, Otule, and Jamil Wilson are more skilled and athletic than Illinois' Nnanna Egwu, Sam McLaurin, and Tyler Griffey. In the title game, North Carolina takes over in the second half and pulls away from a Texas team that doesn't have the manpower to keep up. McAdoo proves why he was a projected first round pick and Strickland flushes down a few dunks late, giving the Tar Heels another Maui Championship game victory.
Mississippi State over Chaminade (7th Place)
Butler over USC (5th Place)
Marquette over Illinois (3rd Place)
North Carolina over Texas (Championship)
Despite losing all the talent that these schools did to early entry in the NBA Draft, I believe many of them have NCAA Tournament potential in 2012-13, namely North Carolina, Texas, Marquette and Butler.
It will be interesting to see many of these players on the court together for one of the first times, as preseason tournaments are a good way to develop a rotation for your roster. It's also nice to see how you stack up to teams in other power conferences, before continuing your nonconference schedule for the next month prior to league play.
1. North Carolina (3-0)
2. Texas (2-1)
3. Marquette (2-1)
4. Illinois (1-2)
5. Butler (2-1)
6. USC (1-2)
7. Mississippi State (1-2)
8. Chaminade (0-3)
All Tournament Team:
James Michael McAdoo, North Carolina-MVP
PJ Hairston, North Carolina
Myck Kabongo, Texas
Trent Lockett, Marquette
Khyle Marshall, Butler