This year’s Maui Invitational was all about defying expectations, so it’s only fitting that Illinois went against that grain by winning the title game… as the favorite. The Illini and their sharp-shooting backcourt gunned down Butler, 78-61, to earn a huge early-season victory.
Of course, Illinois’s title was only one of the monster storylines to come out of a tournament that also featured No. 9 North Carolina falling to an unranked team and Texas getting pummeled by a Division II foe.
For all the painful losses, though, Maui also saw plenty of impressive performances from both individual players and from teams (highlighted, of course, by the victorious Illini).
Read on for a look at the five individual stars who shined the brightest, followed by grades for every team that competed in this year’s tourney (on and off the island).
For Butler’s first two games in Maui, 6’6” junior Khyle Marshall looked like the second coming of Gordon Hayward.
He racked up 24 points and nine rebounds in beating Marquette, then followed that with a double-double (10 points, 11 boards) in the upset of North Carolina.
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, Marshall’s magic ran out before the championship game and Illinois held him to a mere eight points and four rebounds.
He still deserves credit for two brilliant showings against two tough opponents, even if the finale likely left a bad taste in his mouth.
6’4” shooting guard De’Andre Haskins shredded Texas for 32 of Chaminade’s 86 points in the biggest upset of the year.
The Silverswords senior shot 14-for-15 from the foul line in that game (along with 7-for-11 from the field), while the entire Longhorn roster hit just 17 free throws.
Haskins couldn’t lead his team to a second staggering upset, but his performance against Texas was hardly a fluke, either.
He scored 19 more points against Illinois, then finished with 22 points, six rebounds and four assists in the third-place game against North Carolina.
Known mostly as a three-point specialist a year ago, Reggie Bullock has ratcheted up his scoring as a junior.
In the four Maui Invitational games UNC played (including the home date with Florida Atlantic before leaving for Hawaii), Bullock averaged 15.5 points a night, nearly doubling his 2011-12 output.
Bullock has also played a key role in helping freshman Marcus Paige adjust to the point guard spot, dishing out four assists per game in Maui competition.
The 6’7” junior is also playing outstanding defense, ranking second on the Tar Heel roster with 2.0 steals per contest on the young season.
There’s no doubt Illinois’s championship run in Maui was a team effort, with four Illini scorers in double figures in each of their three games. First among equals in that group of offensive weapons, though, was senior leader Brandon Paul.
Paul got Illinois off on the right foot by lighting up USC for 26 points in a blowout win.
He spent more time setting up his teammates against Chaminade (a team-high four assists), but when Illinois needed clutch baskets to finish off Butler in the title game, Paul was there with a team-leading 20 points to lock up the championship.
There’s no doubt that Rotnei Clarke is Butler’s best offensive player this season, but at times on Wednesday night against the Illini, he appeared to be its only offensive player.
Clarke finished with 27 of the Bulldogs’ 61 points, an impressive showing but hardly a recipe for a win.
Of course, the enduring image of this tournament for Clarke will be his buzzer-beating trey to knock off Marquette in the first round, and it’s tough to argue with that kind of clutch performance.
Clarke wasn’t the only hero of the upset over North Carolina (a share of that honor belongs to freshman Kellen Dunham), but he still poured in 17 points and shot 4-for-6 from long range.
As the only non-Division I team in the Maui Invitational, the Silverswords always come in without any expectations of any kind.
For them to beat any of their three opponents is remarkable, but for them to beat a team with Top 25 aspirations (as Texas had) is astounding.
It hardly matters that Chaminade went on to lose to both Illinois and North Carolina. Once the Silverswords had secured their program’s biggest win in a decade, the rest of the tournament was almost beside the point for them.
New coach John Groce could hardly have asked for a better way to show the country that Illinois (even without Meyers Leonard) is still a force to be reckoned with.
Earning a nationally televised neutral-court win over a terrific Butler team will mean momentum, morale, and potentially a significant boost on Selection Sunday.
The only downside for the Illini was that they didn’t play a very tough schedule, opening with lackluster USC and following that up with Division II Chaminade.
Still, an upset tournament title like this one is a tremendous accomplishment that could set the tone for a surprising season in Champaign.
The Bulldogs’ offense deserted them in the title game, but Butler still scored a huge win in Maui.
Even without a tournament title, the Bulldogs made a huge statement by taking down No. 9 North Carolina, and their buzzer-beating win over Marquette doesn’t hurt them any, either.
Butler also has to feel good about the performance of freshman Kellen Dunham in the UNC game, considering that finding a second scorer behind Rotnei Clarke is a top priority for this team.
If Dunham, Khyle Marshall or anyone else gets on track before season’s end, Butler will be a deadly opponent in the NCAA Tournament.
It would’ve been very easy for the Trojans to come out of this tournament with nothing but a win over Chaminade, and that’s not much to build on for a team that finished dead last in its conference a year ago.
In that context, the fact that USC defeated a major-conference opponent (even one playing as badly as Texas was) becomes a much bigger deal than it might be otherwise.
Although they got blown out by Illinois, the Trojans also put in an encouraging showing by hanging tough with Marquette, suggesting that they may have better days ahead of them this season (at least against the Pac-12’s weaker teams).
Keep an eye on UC-Irvine transfer Eric Wise, who’s establishing himself as one of SC’s most valuable weapons as both a scorer and a rebounder.
As a borderline NCAA Tournament-caliber team, Marquette had to be hoping to come away with a statement win at this tournament.
They missed that chance by the margin of a Rotnei Clarke buzzer-beater, but they certainly didn’t embarrass themselves, either.
The Golden Eagles took care of business against two inferior opponents, routing Mississippi State and knocking off USC to claim fifth place in the tournament.
Neither of those wins is going to do much to help Marquette, but avoiding an embarrassing loss is certainly preferable to failing to avoid one (see Texas).
It’s a mixed blessing to be one of the teams invited to play only in Maui’s “opening” games (read: warmup fights for the contending teams), but Elon made the best of it.
Not only did the Phoenix play only one game rather than two against a vastly superior opponent (a 15-point loss at Butler), but they proceeded to add a pair of victories to their record in the “regional” games that followed.
With the benefit of home-court advantage, Elon cruised to a win over Colgate, then squeaked past Florida Atlantic in overtime.
They aren’t exactly looking like bracket-buster material (even with 6’10” Lucas Troutman in the middle), but at least the Phoenix have proven that they can get the job done against other small-conference foes.
Luck was not with the Tar Heels in Maui, as they lost only one game, but also faced only one substantive opponent.
Wins over a weak Mississippi State team and a Division II Chaminade squad will be utterly useless when the Tar Heels are fighting for a chance at a No. 1 or No. 2 seed come March.
On the flip side, the loss to Butler (even with the Bulldogs unranked) is far from a bad one, and playing such a tough defense early in the year will be a valuable lesson for a young roster.
Still, with UNC the only ranked team in the Maui field, it’s hard to see it as anything but a disappointment overall for the Tar Heels to come away with a third-place finish.
For all Murphy Burnatowski’s valiant efforts—18.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game—his team really didn’t do much to distinguish itself in four games worth of Maui competition.
Even two outstanding performances from Burnatowski weren’t enough to prevent the Raiders from losing to Illinois and Marquette by 20-plus points apiece.
More importantly, Colgate couldn’t come away with the win that would have mattered, falling to Elon on the road by nine points.
They salvaged a bit of dignity by downing Coppin State, but a four-point win over a team as weak as the Eagles is a pretty feeble straw to be grasping at.
Nobody was expecting the Owls of Florida Atlantic to compete with North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
They might’ve done better against Mississippi State than a 20-point loss (after all, the Bulldogs lost at Troy to open the season), but again, the small-conference teams in Maui are brought in to lose to an SEC program like MSU.
However, none of those disclaimers apply to FAU’s tournament-closing loss to Elon, in which it took the Phoenix to overtime on its home floor only to fall short.
The Owls did, at least, get a win over Coppin State for their troubles, but a loss to a beatable Phoenix squad when Florida Atlantic had plenty of chances to win is not the way coach Mike Jarvis hoped to start the season.
There’s really no redeeming an 0-4 record, even if the last two losses were competitive ones. Coppin State’s entire schedule to date has been part of the Maui Invitational, and they haven’t got a single win to show for it.
The Eagles did manage a couple of impressive individual efforts, with freshman Patrick Cole scoring 16 points per game and undersized junior Michael Murray grabbing 9.5 boards a night.
None of it, however, stopped the team from following up the expected losses at USC and Texas with two more defeats at the rather less impressive hands of Florida Atlantic and Colgate.
The Bulldogs didn’t lose to (or, indeed, play) Chaminade, but that’s about all the good that can be said of their 0-3 effort in Maui.
They didn’t even approach a competitive performance, losing to North Carolina, Marquette and Texas by an average of 29 points apiece.
The only good news to be found was the emergence of 6’7” sophomore Roquez Johnson, who averaged 15.3 points and seven rebounds a game in those three crushing defeats.
For Johnson’s talent to translate into Bulldog wins, though, fans will need to wait until 2013-14 at the earliest, because he’s about all this team has going for it right now.
A tournament-closing win over Mississippi State in no way diminishes the disastrousness of the Longhorns’ showing in Maui.
Even with point guard Myck Kabongo suspended while the NCAA investigates possible rules violations, Texas had no business losing to Division II Chaminade at all, let alone by 13 points.
Rather than rallying after that stunning defeat, the Longhorns compounded the error with their overtime loss to Pac-12 bottom-feeder USC.
A tournament that should have given them a chance to score one or two signature wins instead turned into two terrible losses and a fairly meaningless victory, and Texas will live to regret those missed opportunities come Selection Sunday.