2007 Maui Invitational Preview
In the past the Maui Invitational has brought us teams coming off of Final Four appearances. The championship in Maui often seems like a potential preview of April’s National Championship.
This year Maui has a little bit of a different feel.
I’m not saying that this field isn’t talented. Duke and Marquette definitely have dreams of getting to the Final Four, but when was the last time the Maui field did not include a single team that won a postseason game the year before?
In fact, only three teams in Maui even made the 2007 NCAA Tournament. Duke lost to VCU as the Blue Devils did not even come close to containing Eric Maynor. Marquette went the first ten minutes of their game without scoring and eventually fell to Michigan State. While Illinois snuck into the field as a 12-seed, the Illini fell to Virginia Tech.
Instead of parading potential title contenders, this Maui Invitational is serving as a fresh start for teams who struggled last season. Everyone is looking to leave the Hawaiian Islands with a re-found sense of confidence.
The Tigers only won two conference games last season and introduce Sydney Johnson as their new head coach this year. Johnson is a former Princeton Tiger who is accustomed to success. He led Princeton to two NCAA Tournaments during his playing days and last season helped Georgetown advance to the Final Four as an assistant to John Thompson III. Johnson knows that Princeton can be a successful program and will instill that sense of confidence in his team.
Leading the way for Princeton will be two senior forwards, Kyle Koncz and Noah Savage. Both are deadly from outside and will likely finish their careers as two of the best three-point shooters in team history.
The Tigers’ rich tradition in shooting the three is well-documented. They are one of only three Division I teams to have made at least one three-point shot in every game since the rule took effect in 1986.
Running the point will be sophomore Marcus Schroeder. A true iron man, Schroeder led Division I basketball in minutes played in his first year. He is also a prominent shooter from outside and twice hit five three-pointers in a game.
Schroeder’s high school teammate, Lincoln Gunn, and center Zach Finley will also play key roles this year for the Tigers.
Coming off of a season where they finished .500 in the ACC and lost their final four games at Cameron Indoor Stadium, the Blue Devils hope to rebound from a very disappointing 2006-07 campaign starting in Maui.
The Blue Devils return four starters from last year’s team and Josh McRoberts’ early departure for the NBA is their only significant loss.
Due to their lack of size underneath, look for Duke to run a faster paced offense. The Devils will often spread the floor and give all of their perimeter guys an opportunity to penetrate. This edition of Blue Devil basketball will rely on its speed and skill for success. Duke is not big by any means and the team did seem to struggle mightily on the offensive end last season, but these kids are certainly talented. There are not many teams in the country with eight McDonald’s All-Americans, three of which are incoming freshmen.
Leading the crusade this season will be the experienced backcourt. Senior guard DeMarcus Nelson will continue to carry the load on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court. He led the team in scoring (14.1 PPG) last season and is one of the top defenders in the ACC.
The second member of that experienced backcourt is junior guard Greg Paulus. Paulus is a good point guard but has often been scrutinized during his stint at Duke. The reason for much of the scrutiny is his inability to penetrate defenses. He is a perimeter-oriented point guard and needs to find ways to get into the paint more often to increase his assist totals (3.8 APG).
The other two returning starters are two sophomores, guard Jon Scheyer and forward Lance Thomas. Scheyer is a dynamic scorer and the Blue Devils will rely on his ability to spread defenses and knock down open shots. However, he is not just a spot-up shooter and has an uncanny ability to get to the free throw line, where he shot 85 percent last season.
Thomas will provide toughness on both ends of the court and is a solid rebounder. Look for him to attempt to fill McRoberts’ shoes down low.
Gerald Henderson also looks to improve upon an impressive rookie season. He is an incredible athlete and could be heavily relied upon for his scoring ability.
Much has been said about Duke’s incoming freshmen class this season. Look for all three members to have an immediate impact.
The cream of the class is Kyle Singler, a 6’8” forward who may be asked to play a little bigger than he is used to due to Duke’s lack of size. However, don’t expect him to struggle in such a role. Coach Mike Krzyzewski says that Singler’s basketball IQ is as complete as anyone who has ever came to Duke. He is a versatile athlete who is strong underneath and effective from the perimeter.
The other two members of this freshmen class are Taylor King and Nolan Smith. King is a pure shooter who will throw it up from anywhere while Smith is a quick guard who will be able to step in and penetrate defenses if Paulus struggles.
In his second year in Tempe, head coach Herb Sendek should have a lot more talent at his disposal. Last season’s team only won two games in the Pac-10 and relied on big man Jeff Pendergraph to do everything except work the concession stand.
The Sun Devils were forced to grind it out defensively and proved to be a pesky opponent. However, they lost nine of ten games decided by ten points or less, a statistic that can be directly correlated to their lack of depth.
Pendergraph will again be the focal point for Sendek’s squad. The 6’10” junior finished last season second in the Pac-10 in field goal percentage and pulled down nine rebounds a game. He consistently saw double and even triple teams underneath, but he hopes that the newcomers, along with more experienced returnees, will help prevent teams from locking down on him in the post.
Joining the Devils underneath will be the 2005 McDonald’s American and transfer from Duke, Eric Boateng. Boateng is also 6’10” and gives them another option in the post. He is a tremendous rebounder and will definitely help prevent teams from doubling down on Pendergraph.
Last season Arizona State finished ninth in the conference in three-point shooting. To help atone for their struggles in that department, the Sun Devlis brought in James Harden. Harden is the first McDonald’s All-American to come to ASU straight out of high school since 1984. He is a 6’4” versatile wing who can score, rebound, and dish the basketball.
Also returning are three talented sophomores in Derek Glasser, Jerren Shipp, and Christian Polk. Glasser will again run the show and is coming off a season in which he started every single game. Shipp, the brother of UCLA’s Josh Shipp, will be looked upon as a defensive stopper but has also shown the ability to score the basketball. Polk connected on 64 three-pointers last season and averaged twelve points per game.
Due to their added depth, look for the Devils run the ball up the court more and play a little bit of a transition game. At the same time, however, this squad will continue to play tough and grind it out on the defensive end.
Over the last four seasons the Illini have accumulated more victories than any other program in the nation. However, to find success this season they will be forced to overcome some adversity. First they lost veteran guard Jamar Smith to an off-court incident and then freshman phenom Eric Gordon chose rival Indiana over the Illini in a highly publicized recruiting battle.
Illinois will look to the veteran inside play of Shaun Pruitt and Brian Randle to find success in 2007-2008.
Pruitt is a veteran presence in the middle and he looks to increase his offensive production. He finished third in the Big Ten in rebounds last season and finished second in double-doubles. Pruitt tested the NBA waters with some off-season workouts and that should benefit him with his all-around game.
Randle, the team’s most athletic player, does a little bit of everything for Illinois. He averaged 7.4 points and 5.0 rebounds a year ago and was a Big Ten All-Defensive Team selection. He has been forced to endure multiple surgeries over the past couple of seasons and hopes an injury- free season will allow for more consistency.
Chester Frazier will run the show at point guard for this crew. Frazier can be depended upon on both ends of the court. Also a Big Ten All-Defensive Team selection, he finished the season fourth in assists and sixth in steals in the Big Ten.
The recruiting class for Illinois basketball team is one that is still up for debate. It starts with JUCO transfer Rodney Alexander. Look for Alexander to play either the 3 or 4 for the Illini. Another member of this class is Demetri McCamey, an All-State selection out of Illinois. McCamey has a big body for a point guard and coach Bruce Weber will look for him to contribute immediately.
The addition of McCamey and others will also allow Trent Meachem, who shot over 40% from beyond the arc, the opportunity to play exclusively at the 2-guard position. Meachem should be especially important for Illinois because his ability to knock down perimeter shots will disallow teams from doubling down on Pruitt underneath.
The host team of the annual Maui Invitational, the Division II Silverswords hopes to pull off another monumental upset, just as they did 25 years ago against Virginia.
Chaminade head coach Matt Mahar will rely on six returning seniors to help accomplish this task.
Leading the way will be Marko Kolaric, a 7-footer out of Serbia. Kolaric was a First-Team All Pac-West selection last season and duplicate such an effort this time around. A presence underneath, he was the leading rebounder in 22 of 27 games last year while nearly averaging a double-double (11.4 PPG, 9.8 RPG).
Also returning will be two honorable mention All Pac-West selections in Stewart Kussler and Hayden Heiber. The Maui competition should not faze Kussler in the slightest. Last season the forward compiled 21 points and 7 rebounds against DePaul and then posted 23 and 7 versus Oklahoma. He finished the season shooting an impressive 55 percent from the field while averaging 12.1 points per game.
Heiber looks to pick up where he left off last year, as he averaged 10.8 points in the Silverswords’ last eight games. He also shot 43% from beyond the arc.
In the last two seasons Chaminade has accumulated a 35-14 record against non-Division I opponents. The Silverswords also won the Pac-West in 2005-06 en route to their first ever Division II NCAA Tournament appearance.
The Golden Eagles enter the 2007-08 season with all five returning starters and one of the best guard trios in the country in Jerel McNeal, Dominic James, and Wesley Matthews
Last season McNeal was selected as the Big East Defensive Player of the Year. He is everywhere defensive end and loves disrupting ball handlers up top. McNeal is efficient on the offensive side of the ball as well. Last season he was second on the team in scoring (14.7 PPG) and is a very effective at slashing and getting to the hole. If McNeal can reduce his turnovers and improve his outside shot, he could lead Marquette deep into the postseason.
Matthews comes off a season where he averaged double figures (12.6 PPG) and scored in double figures in 14 of 16 Big East games. He is also the best rebounder of this trio. Like McNeal, Matthews also struggles with turnovers and must learn to protect the basketball.
James is the most flamboyant of the three and at times is a game-breaker. He led his team in scoring (14.9 PPG) last year but lacks consistency in his outside shot and sometimes disrupts the offense by taking ill-advised shots. James is incredibly athletic and can jump out of the gym but needs to become more of a floor general. If he can do that he may once again become the guard that many thought would enter the NBA draft after his sophomore year.
All of Marquette’s guards are extremely active and are relentless in their pressure. They extend their defense and are very effective at getting in the passing lanes and denying the basketball.
Dan Fitzgerald and David Cubillan are the Eagles’ two best perimeter shooters. When James penetrates defenses, these are the guys he needs to find at the wing ready to pull the trigger on an open three.
Marquette’s projected weakness is its post play and rebounding. The team was hoping to get help from Trevor Mbakwe, a 6’7” freshman, but he sprained a ligament in his knee and is done for the year. The loss of Mbakwe will put even more pressure on Lazar Hayward, who started 16 games as a freshman, and Ousmane Barro, who led the team last season with 35 blocks.
Two seasons removed from a Final Four appearance, the Tigers look to regroup after a disappointing 2006-07 season.
They will have to do so without a dominant post presence, which had become a staple at LSU. Glenn Davis will not be walking into the Pete Maravich Assembly center anytime soon, neither will Stromile Swift, Brandon Bass, or Tyrus Thomas.
Instead the Tigers will rely on height and length that is dispersed throughout their starting five. Look for coach John Brady to push the tempo, trap more on defense, and actually start outside and then look inside on offense. This team will be more perimeter-oriented than any team Brady has had at LSU.
The leader on this team will be Tasmin Mitchell. Mitchell is a 1st Team All-SEC performer and is exceptionally versatile on the offensive side of the ball. He is stronger than 2-guards and is quicker than bigs. He can score with his face to the basket, with his back to the basket, and spot up and shoot an outside shot.
Garrett Temple and Terry Martin are both 6’6” guards who have the ability to post up smaller defenders. Temple, primarily a defensive specialist can put the clamps down on opponents’ best scorers as well as any player in the country.
Joining the Tigers this season are Marcus Thornton and Anthony Randolph. Both are expected to step in and contribute immediately. Randolph is one of the most highly-recruited freshmen in the nation. He averaged 17.5 points per game in exhibitions and many people compare him to former Georgia Tech star Chris Bosh. If he proves to play like Bosh, the Bayou Bengals will not lack that inside presence for long. Thornton is a JUCO transfer and could end up running the offense for the Tigers.
The Cowboys lost three of their top five scorers from a team that didn’t even make the NCAA Tournament. Needless to say coach Sean Sutton and his staff have a lot of work to do to get this team back to the Big Dance.
Forced to lead the way will be 6’9” senior forward Marcus Dove. Known as a defensive stopper, Love blocked 65 shots last season and was selected as the Big 12 co-Defensive Player of the Year, but this season he will be asked to do a lot more on the offensive end of the floor. Long and very athletic, he has increased his ability to knock down open jumpers during the off-season.
Also returning is junior point guard Byron Eaton. Eaton lost 25 pounds during the off-season and hopes that his weight loss will correlate to added quickness. Entering his junior year he already ranks 17th on OSU’s all-time steals list, ranks among the top 15 in three-point field goal percentage, and has recorded at least 100 assists in both his freshman and sophomore campaigns.
Terrell Harris is the leading returning scorer from a year ago. Harris is the Cowboy’s best shooter, as he connected on 43% of his shots from beyond the arc and 86% from the line.
Coach Sutton brings seven newcomers to Stillwater this season and hopes that these additions will provide more talent and depth. The most heralded freshman of the group is James Anderson, a 6’6” McDonald’s All-American. Anderson is a very talented wing player who knows how to attack gaps. Clearly expected to make an immediate impact, he poured in 29 points in his debut.
Duke over Princeton
Arizona State over Illinois
Marquette over Chaminade
LSU over Oklahoma State
Duke over Arizona State
Marquette over LSU
Duke over Marquette
Duke will avenge their loss to the Golden Eagles in last season’s CBE Classic championship game and Kyle Singler will be named MVP.