The 27th annual Maui Invitational takes place next week on the island of Maui in Hawaii.
The Maui Invitational has become one of the most prestigious preseason NCAA basketball tournaments, and I know I for one look forward to it every year.
The reason it's so prestigious is only the top schools get to participate in the Thanksgiving week tournament. It's almost an honor to get invited to play.
Participants of Maui have won 62 of the 73 NCAA Championships, have been 58 of 73 National runners-up and 239 of the 292 total final four teams have competed on the island.
This is such a great tournament because top teams play on a neutral court and there's no guarantees. It's a great early test for the upcoming season.
Many of the games all-time greats have played in this tournament.
Past MVP's were Kemba Walker, Ty Lawson, Kyle Singler, Mike Dunleavy, Joseph Forte, Raef LaFrentz, Kerry Kittles, Bobby Hurley and Glen Rice just to name a few.
This year players from Michigan, Memphis, Tennessee, Duke, UCLA, Georgetown, Kansas and Chaminade (host school) will try and etch their niche in Maui greatness.
These are the top 10 players to watch out for in the 2011 EA Sports Maui Invitational.
Tyshawn Taylor is the leading returning scorer and top assist per game performer returning on the Jayhawks roster.
The Jayhawks lost a lot of talent from last year's team, so Taylor now will be the go-to player.
Taylor is also a three-year starter so his experience will be key not just for this young Kansas team, but for the tournament.
He averaged 9.3 points per game last year as a junior, which ranked third on the team. He also was a finalist for the Bob Cousy award.
Taylor shot a career best 38 percent from behind the arc last year and hopes he can only improve and lead this team deep in the tournament.
Hollis Thompson may be one on the shockers in the tournament, but he's a name you will get to know.
Thompson averaged nine PPG last year off the bench as a sophomore, in which he didn't get a ton of playing time. The Hoyas lost three of their top four scorers from last season so they will lean on Thompson heavily.
Thompson has the athleticism to compete and the height to make defenders crazy. His 6'7" frame is definitely NBA material as he tested the waters this past summer.
Thompson reached double-figures five times as a freshman and made two starts in his freshman year.
If Thompson comes ready to play and becomes a leader, this Georgetown team will be hard to stop in Maui.
Austin Rivers is the youngest son of NBA athlete and current head coach of the Boston Celtics Doc Rivers.
There was so much attention on Rivers in high school and he figures to get even more now that he's a Blue Devil.
Rivers was the nation's top recruit out of Winter Park, Florida. He is the second all-time leading scorer in Florida high school basketball history with 2,957 career points.
He's also one of three 2011 McDonald's All-American's to join the Blue Devils roster.
I think Rivers will have a huge tournament and showcase to the world he's going to be a force for Duke. His points per game won't be too crazy, but I can see him averaging anywhere between 15-20 PPG in the tournament.
What Rivers will do is make other players better on the court with him due to the attention you have to bring at him.
He has an uncanny ability to get in the lane and has a high percentage on mid-range jump shots.
If his teammates are hitting shots once he gets them the ball Duke will win the Maui.
Seth Curry is Duke's leading returning scorer from last year. He averaged nine PPG and shot a career-best 43.5 percent from 3-point range.
The 6'2" guard will now move to shooting guard with the arrival of Austin Rivers.
Last year Curry played point guard more than his natural position of shooting guard.
Rivers will make Curry look like a pro. Curry has a deadly shot just like his dad Dell and he shot 43 percent last year when he had to create his shot, imagine what he will do when he's wide-open.
Rivers should be able to penetrate no problem. Curry should be right in the wing and his man will have to come help on Rivers and Rivers will feed Curry for open shots all night.
Those abilities will make Curry one of the front runners for this year's MVP.
Andre Dawkins like Seth Curry will be the beneficiary of the addition of Austin Rivers.
Dawkins is like Curry in that he's a dangerous outside shooter and should get more open looks with Rivers running the point.
Dawkins averaged 8.1 PPG last year and was second on the team behind the arc at 42.7 percent.
What Dawkins brings is an endless amount of range. He can drain shots from anywhere on the court and will force guys to guard him close.
If you get too close to him he will kill you on the dribble drive with his quickness.
I look for Dawkins to be on the first-team all-Maui this year.
Reeves Nelson is the leading returning scorer from the Bruins last year. He had a team high 13.9 PPG and 9.1 RPG.
Nelson was named all-conference in the Pac 10, now the Pac-12.
He will be the anchor in one of the best front courts in all of NCAA basketball.
Nelson worked on his game this summer to improve even more and one thing he did to make himself more dangerous is improve his outside shot.
If Nelson can be a force inside and out he will be dangerous to defend.
We all know in a tournament it's all about getting hot at the right time and if Nelson can he's an MVP threat for sure.
Joshua Smith could be the most dominate big man in all of the country this year. If he can stay out of foul trouble and keep his conditioning up he will be.
Smith is a hefty 6'10" 305 pound center.
He's shown flashes of dominance and if he wants it bad enough he will be a force in Maui. No team in the field really has anyone that can guard Smith if he uses his frame.
He averaged 10.9 PPG last year, but this year I expect that total to be more around 15-17 PPG.
Smith can change a game if he's willing.
If he has a good tournament, he will surely be a first-team center.
Tennessee had a bad year last year in losing their head coach Bruce Pearl and the program facing scrutiny.
This year the drama is gone, but so are three of the top four players.
Tatum is the leading returning scorer and third best of last year's team. He averaged 8.8 PPG.
The senior will be leaned on heavily by this young team. He has 806 points in his career and they need him to be the leader and voice of this team.
Tatum showed flashes of becoming a go-to guy last year, but he wasn't the first two options.
With being option No. 1, look for the 6'7" swingman to rack up good numbers in Maui and maybe even average near 20 PPG for the tournament.
Tim Hardaway Jr. is the third second-generation player of an NBA star on this list. The 6'6" sophomore led Michigan last year as a freshman back to the NCAA Tournament.
Hardaway Jr. averaged 13.9 PPG and was one of three guys to start all 35 games.
He was an All-Big Ten honorable mention and part of the all-freshman team.
27 times last year Hardaway scored in double figures and I think he will in every game in Maui as well this year.
Hardaway is explosive and hard to guard. If you play too tight he will have no problem driving around you. If you give him too much of a cushion he will shoot lights out if he's on.
He will certainly battle in this deep field and should stand out by the end of the tournament.
Zack Novak brings hustle and experience back to Michigan in his fourth year on campus.
The senior is close to breaking some major shooting records and what a better place to start than in Maui.
The 6'4" 210 pound shooting guard averages 7.7 PPG for his career and has started 88 of the 100 games he's played in.
Novak is fifth all-time in three-point field goals made and attempted. The lefty has such a smooth shot and is automatic when he's on.
Hardaway will help draw attention off of him and let him shoot at will.
Another key stat is he's only 6'4", but led the team in rebounding last season. He's not afraid to mix it up in the paint and will do whatever he can for the Wolverines to win.
He's been named captain for the third straight season, and they will need him to lead them to a possible Maui Invitational victory.