Whenever a team enters a tournament that features eight undefeated sides, you are bound to learn something about them by the time the party ends.
That is exactly what faced the Baylor Bears as they started their three-day stay at the Maui Invitational on Monday.
Luckily for the Bears, they survived a first-half ambush by Chaminade's Christophe Varidel and defeated the host Silverswords, 93-77, to advance to the semifinals of the now 30-year-old tournament.
Awaiting Scott Drew and company in their final two games in Hawaii will be two difficult challenges, no matter who the opponent will be.
As they march forward into their semifinal clash with Dayton, the Bears will be able to learn from their mistakes in their first game at the Lahaina Civic Center as they let Varidel score 31 in the first 20 minutes.
Varidel with 31 points at half. I don't know if he's hard to guard, Baylor has not tried yet— Jimmy Dykes (@JimmyDykesLive) November 26, 2013
Dayton will be a dangerous opponent, after upsetting Gonzaga in the first round, with an even more deadly guard than Varidel in Jordan Sibert, who when hot, can shoot lights out from beyond the arc.
Sibert gave Gonzaga fits in the Flyers' 84-79 victory as he shot 5-of-8 from three-point range on his way to scoring 23 points.
With the problem in the defensive backcourt identified, Drew has plenty to work on with his team in the hours leading up to the semifinal game.
While the backcourt exposure will be what everyone focuses on in regards to the Bears on Tuesday night, it will be another part of their game that will be under the microscope.
That part of the game will be how the big men in the Baylor lineup compete in big games against quality opposition.
The power frontcourt duo of Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson will have to live up to their potential as big men for Baylor to have any chance of negating the fast-paced scoring threat that Dayton possesses.
If the sophomore-senior combination can nullify the Flyers' uptempo offense by turning the game into a physical clash on the inside, they will most likely take on No. 8 Syracuse and their star C.J. Fair in Wednesday's final.
Fair is a versatile player that can beat you on the inside and from the wing, and it will be Jefferson who will likely be the man forced to step out to the wing to make sure Fair does not get an easy shot away.
If they can neutralize the threat of Fair, the Bears will have to efficiently guard the inside threats of DaJuan Coleman and Rakeem Christmas as well.
Can Baylor Win the Maui Invitational?
Containing Coleman and Christmas will be a much easier task for the Bears to succeed at if Fair does not have a stellar ballgame.
Turning away from the frontcourt for a moment, the play of the Baylor guards will also be a topic of high interest given the spectacular players they will be opposing at the same position.
Senior Brady Heslip, a threat from three-point range himself, will have to contain Sibert, and then potentially Trevor Cooney or Tyler Ennis of Syracuse to give his team a chance to win.
The Bears will also have to rely on some unexpected contributors outside of the their big three, just like they will have to do during crucial Big 12 clashes with Kansas and Oklahoma State.
The list of candidates to step into that specific role is led by junior Kenny Chery, who averaged 11.8 points per game heading into Maui, and senior guard Gary Franklin.
If the role players on the Baylor roster can somehow find a way to step up and help their team defeat two ranked opponents, the Bears could gain the confidence they need to be able to challenge the hierarchy of the Big 12 during conference play.
While that is a big if, let's remember that stranger things happened in Maui last season when Brandon Paul and Illinois surprised everyone and won the tournament.
Regardless of what the results say at the conclusion of the Maui Invitational, Baylor will know what their identity as a team will be this season, which will go a long way in determining how they finish in the Big 12.
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