The 2014 EA SPORTS Maui Invitational "Championship Rounds" - hosted annually by the Chaminade Silverswords - kicks off Monday with a guaranteed three-game format. BOTC's tropical roving reporter - yours truly - is here to cover all the action for our Wildcats (not the other Wildcats, or the Tigers, or the Cougars, or the Panthers...hmmm...what's with the cat mascots this year?) The Maui Invitational is thought by many to be the most prestigious of all the pre-conference tournaments, and has been played annually since 1984.
Here's a quick briefing on this year's lineup. Of relative importance - K-State's first game vs. the Purdue Boilermakers tips at 9:30 a.m. local time - or 1:30 p.m. Manhattan time - on ESPN2. Watch for me - I'll be the one in purple.
(#2 AP) Arizona Wildcats, 3-0
Arizona comes into the 2014-15 season with a great blend of experience, leadership and fresh, young talent. Arizona finished the season 33-5 last year, ending their year with an Elite 8 loss to Wisconsin despite losing starting forward Brandon Ashley for the season. He's back and this year's squad features a 2014 McDonald's All-American and the Preseason Player of the Year in the Pac-12 for many in Stanley Johnson, as well as two other 2014 ESPN100 players. The Wildcats have competed in the Maui Invitational 6 times, with one championship (2000) and two runner-up finishes (1993, 1997). Arizona takes on the Missouri Tigers in their first round game.
(#16 AP) San Diego St. Aztecs, 3-0
San Diego State has been on something of a roll over the past several years, often earning Top 25 rankings throughout the season, as well as appearing in the NCAA Tournament (2010-2014) and winning Mountain West Conference championships. SDSU has appeared in the Maui Invitational on 2 previous occasions, and bring a unique blend of disciplined, defensive, value-your-possessions basketball. SDSU lost to Arizona in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tourney last year (a loss they'll be looking to avenge), and takes on BYU in their first round game.
(RV AP) Kansas State Wildcats, 2-1
K-State is somewhat of an enigma now, seeing how their first road test went. Fans of the Wildcats will be in "wait-and-see" mode, whether their home team shows up (one of the best offenses in the nation), or their road team shows up (Long Beach State earned a wire-to-wire victory on Friday). K-State is making their third appearance in the Maui Invitational, earning a runner-up finish in 1985. Get ready to #EMAW against Purdue in the first game of the bracket, bright and early (in Hawai'i) on Monday.
(RV AP) Pittsburgh Panthers, 2-1
Road woes seem to be sharing company, as Pittsburgh came over to the islands a bit early, and dropped a contest on Friday to the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, 74-70. The Panthers were also an NCAA Tournament team last year, losing in the Second Round to Florida, finishing the season 26-10. A team relatively heavy on sophomores and juniors, this could be a team to watch out for if they gel just right. This is Pitt's first attendance at the Maui Invitational, and they take on host Chaminade in the first round. On a related note, I saw some of the Pitt players burying one of their own in the sand on the beach yesterday while we were out swimming. Some other kids - 5-6 years old - came over and started helping. It was pretty funny to watch.
(RV AP) BYU Cougars, 3-0
Unlike K-State - BYU actually won versus Long Beach (95-90), but got to play that game at home. BYU is running a high-octane offense this year, sitting at 4th in the country at 95.7 ppg, and 6th in the country at 21.7 apg. These guys win by running the other team out of the gym. The Cougars are coming off a 23-12 season, with a First Round loss to Oregon in the NCAA Tournament. This is their third appearance in the Maui Invitational, finishing as runner-up in 1992. BYU will play the Aztecs on Monday.
The "Who Knows" Group:
Missouri Tigers, 2-1
Mizzou was on the wrong end of this season's early upset of note, losing in Columbia to UMKC in their first outing. Since then, the Tigers have somewhat righted the ship, earning two solid victories by an average of 14.5 ppg, although it took a ridiculous and likely unrepeatable second-half barrage of 3-pointers (8-of-9) to put away Oral Roberts. Mizzou has a young squad and a first-year head coach in Kim Anderson, so the possibility exists they'll catch lightning in a bottle and grab a couple victories in the consolation bracket. Mizzou has participated in Maui on three previous occasions, taking the championship in 1989. Missouri will take on Arizona first.
Purdue Boilermakers, 3-0
Who knows what Purdue will bring when faced with real competition? They've won their three games by an average of nearly 38 ppg, but have done it at home against Samford, IUPUI, and Grambling St. They also finished the season on a sour note, losing 12 of their last 14 for a 15-17 record. Similar to some other teams, the Boilermakers are also bringing a pretty young team (9 FRs and SOs). This will be Purdue's third trip to Maui, and they take on K-State in the first round.
"Thanks for Hosting":
Chaminade Silverswords, 2-0
True story: A Silversword is a type of succulent that only grows near the crater of Haleakala, the dormant volcano on the east half of the island of Maui. With the educational part out of the way, on to the basketball team - Chaminade annually hosts the Maui Invitational, so they get a complimentary appearance. The tournament was actually started because of a Chaminade upset of Ralph Sampson's Virginia Cavaliers in 1982; followed up 30 years later with a stunning upset of Texas in 2012. The Silverswords have compiled a 7-76 record in the Maui Invitational since its '84 inaugural season, but have made several NCAA Division II tournament appearances and Pac West championships in recent years. Chaminade will compete with Pitt in the first round.