Texas, UNC Favored To Win Maui Invitational
With next week being a holiday week, most major college basketball teams will be playing in one tournament or another. One of the most prestigious holiday tournaments is the Maui Invitational, which has been held every year since 1984. Like last season, there were some mainland early-round games but only seven top schools will actually travel to Maui.
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The host is little Chaminade. That former NAIA school made college basketball history on December 23, 1982, in Honolulu (prefacing the Maui Invitational) by upsetting top-ranked Virginia, which was led by seven-foot-four Ralph Sampson, one of the best college players of all-time. It still is considered the biggest upset in basketball history. Chaminade was to be renamed the University of Honolulu shortly after that game but the school kept its name because of all the attention it received. That was pre-social media and mass Internet so many media outlets thought the score was a hoax or mistake at first. Chaminade is now a Division II program.
The tournament favorite at Bovada is Texas at 3/2, and the Longhorns will open play versus Chaminade on Monday. The Horns (2-0) were nearly upset in their season opener, squeaking by Fresno State 55-53. UT played that game and then beat Coppin State 69-46 without star sophomore point guard Myck Kabongo. He has been held out as the NCAA investigates whether he received impermissible benefits from an agent during the offseason.
The 2012-13 Longhorns are a very young team with eight freshman and just two upperclassmen. They will have been off a week by the time they tip off in Maui. Presuming a win over Chaminade (which is 500/1 to win the tournament) Texas would then play the Southern Cal-Illinois winner.
No. 11 North Carolina, which lost four starters off last year's Elite Eight team, is the 8/5 second-favorite in Maui. The Heels open the tournament against Mississippi State (18/1) and are on the opposite side of the bracket so they could only face Texas in the championship game if they each win out. UNC opened with a 76-59 victory over Gardner-Webb and then an 80-56 defeat of Florida Atlantic. National Player of the Year candidate James Michael McAdoo has looked the part so far by averaging 22.5 points and 12.5 rebounds. He will be the centerpiece of this year's team with Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller, Kendall Marshall and John Henson all now in the NBA.
Carolina will make a stop on the way to Maui and face a good Long Beach State team in its gym on Friday night. LBSU nearly upset North Carolina in Chapel Hill last season, losing 84-78. Four starters were lost off that Big West champion and NCAA Tournament team, however.
Marquette is 5/1 to win the Maui, and the Golden Eagles will open against Butler (12/1). Marquette was to open the season November 9 against No. 4 Ohio State on the USS Yorktown in South Carolina, but the game had to be canceled because of condensation on the court. The Golden Eagles must replace departed stars Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom, the Big East's highest-scoring tandem last year. Crowder was named the conference player of the year.
Butler missed last year's NCAA tournament after back-to-back national runner-up finishes but brings back four starters as the Bulldogs begin play in the Atlantic-10 Conference this season. Illinois (11/2) and Southern Cal (12/1) round out the field.
The Trojans were 6-26 last season as four starters were lost to season-ending injuries. All of the players who were hurt are now healthy and USC believes it can contend in the Pac-12. Keep an eye on seven-foot-two Egyptian center Omar Oraby. He set a school record for blocked shots at Rice last season and was somewhat surprisingly granted a hardship waiver on the eve of the season to play immediately as a transfer at USC. Oraby had 16 points, six rebounds and three blocks in his Trojan debut.
Four times the winner of the Maui Invitational Tournament has gone on to win the national championship that season. The last was Connecticut two years ago. North Carolina has done it twice. This year's Maui title game is November 21 at 10 PM ET. All games are televised by one of the ESPN networks.
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