Maui Invitational: 3 Teams That Will Use Tourney as Springboard for Great Season

Scott PolacekFeatured ColumnistNovember 6, 2012

Maui Invitational: 3 Teams That Will Use Tourney as Springboard for Great Season

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    There are three constants as mid to late November rolls around: food, family and great basketball games on the island of Hawaii.

    This year’s Maui Invitational features a number of excellent programs, including North Carolina, Texas, Butler, USC and Illinois.

    While the travel schedule is often grueling for these student athletes, it seems as if a few teams always use the tournament as a springboard for a great season.

    Read on to see three teams that will do just that in 2012-13.

Butler

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    Butler had a very un-Butler like year in 2011-12. Look for that to change this season.

    The Bulldogs have a lot of marquee names on their nonconference schedule, but all of those games are winnable except the Indiana trip.

    Xavier (considered nonconference because it was scheduled before Butler joined the Atlantic 10) and Vanderbilt both lost a ton of talent. What’s more, Northwestern will be playing without Mr. Everything John Shurna for the first time in four years.

    That means success in Hawaii will set Butler up well for a lot of wins in the first couple of months. The Bulldogs start the tournament with a Marquette squad that lost its best two players (Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom) and then could face North Carolina.

    If Butler can win one of those first two games it could very well defeat Illinois or USC down the road and earn itself a third or fourth place finish.

    Ultimately, the experience the Bulldogs will accumulate in Maui is more important than winning the Invitational in terms of future success. But I’m sure they wouldn’t mind taking home the title.

Texas

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    Texas probably deserves a spot in the AP Top 25. A solid performance at the Maui Invitational will give them just that.

    The Longhorns got placed on the easier side of the bracket with Chaminade, USC and Illinois, as opposed to the side with North Carolina, Butler, Marquette and Mississippi State.

    Expect Texas to rack up a number of early wins in Hawaii before going up against some of those stronger teams. Then again, Texas’ loaded backcourt could be enough to beat anyone in the tournament on a given night.

    Jonathan Holmes, Myck Kabongo and Sheldon McClellan all return and are joined by highly-regarded freshman Javan Felix.

    The frontcourt is somewhat up in the air, but Rick Barnes’ recruiting should help in the paint. In fact, the experience the team accumulates on the island will help the youngsters down the road when they match up against the likes of UCLA, Michigan State, Baylor and Kansas.

    Look for Texas to at least reach the Maui Invitational title game before falling to North Carolina. Anything else would have to be considered a disappointment.

North Carolina

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    North Carolina should win the Maui Invitational.

    Yes, it is a strong field and the Tar Heels are very young and inexperienced, but they are also the best team that will be making the trip.

    Roy Williams’ squad starts the tournament with Mississippi State and will then play the winner of Marquette and Butler (assuming the Tar Heels win). If Texas does its part, North Carolina and the Longhorns will match up in an intriguing championship game.

    Texas has a dynamic backcourt, but James Michael McAdoo and company are simply more talented.

    The reason the Maui Invitational is so important for North Carolina is the youth that permeates its roster. Outside of contests with Indiana and UNLV, there aren’t many more challenges on the nonconference schedule for the Heels to get their feet wet.

    That means these games on the island will be critical to Williams’ efforts to prepare his squad for difficult ACC games down the road.