Inside the Bracket: Maui Invitational preview
Teams: Arkansas, California, Minnesota. Syracuse, Chaminade, Baylor, Dayton, Gonzaga
Favorites: Syracuse / Gonzaga – The Orange haven’t been overwhelming, but there’s plenty of talent in place for Jim Boeheim. Syracuse is led by returning starter C.J. Fair and his 18 points a game. Freshman guard Tyler Ennis is still adjusting to the college game, but has shown flashes of high-end talent. Playing against their long 2-3 zone isn’t easy, and the Orange are adept at turning turnovers into points . Gonzaga has scored 90 or more points in three of four games to open the season. Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell, Jr. are playing at a high level. New starter Sam Dower provides size inside. Even with the departures of Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris, the Bulldogs are set to contend for another West Coast Conference crown. Gonzaga has depth and scoring punch at the guard positions. Mark Few can put as many as five shooters on the court at once.
Contender: Baylor – Baylor is one of those teams that looks great in spurts and so-so in others. Consistent effort and execution have sometimes eluded the Bears. Cory Jefferson (13 ppg) provides both offense and rebounding (9.8 rpg). With four players averaging double figures, the Bears have been balanced offensively in the early going. Brady Heslip is a threat from the 3-point line and Isaiah Austin is averaging almost five blocks a contest. Assuming “good” Baylor shows up against Chaminade, a potential date with Gonzaga awaits in Round 2.
Biggest Opportunities: Minnesota / Dayton – How good are the Gophers and Flyers? Opportunities await both. Under new coach Richard Pitino, Minnesota posted a nice road win at Richmond, but has done most of its early work at home. Dayton arrives in Maui fresh off a road victory at Georgia Tech. Either or both could be in the mix for an at-large berth come March. Picking up a couple of marquee wins in Maui would help either’s resume. Andre and Austin Hollins have been solid for the Gophers – combining for over 30 points a game. Dayton is led in scoring by Jordan Sibert and Devin Oliver.
Best Opening Matchup: Arkansas-California. While these two teams arrive in Maui a bit under the radar, both have aspirations of hearing their names called on Selection Sunday. The Razorbacks collected a better-than-you-think win over SMU before heading to the islands. Now it’s time to see if this year’s group of Hogs can win away from home. Jabari Bird and Tyrone Wallace have been solid scorers for Mike Montgomery while Richard Solomon is pulling down 12.5 rebounds a contest. This one should be a lot of fun and a great way to open the Maui Invitational.
Action begins at 3:00 p.m. (ET) on Monday (Nov. 25) and concludes with a pre-Thanksgiving feast on Wednesday.