While NFL doubleheader will be a key way I spend parts of Thursday that I won't be eating, I'm more pumped for college hoops. Though pre-conference schedule tournaments have gone on and been very exciting, and the pre-season NIT is coming this weekend at Madison Square Garden, the top early season tournament for me each year is the EA Sports Maui Invitational. Many hoops pundits have pointed to the recently completed Puerto Rico Tip-Off as having the best overall field, but something about the event in Maui just signals the real start of college basketball.
From the games played in a tiny gym similar to that of my high school, to the announcers which usually include Bill Raftery, to the teams which are routinely in the Top 25, it all makes for a great few days of games. Tiny Chaminade, most known for their upset of Virigina back in the 80s, hosts this event, and, while they often get their doors blown off, there is always the chance they might upset somebody. Then you have seven other teams that are likely to be in the mix for a berth in the field of 65, if not a crack at the Final Four. The field this year is no different as it is a group of household names in college hoops including Arizona, Cincinatti, Colorado, Gonzaga, Maryland, Vanderbilt, Wisconsin (and the aforementioned Chaminade). Of course these teams aren't currently at their strongest in recent years, but they book these fields several years out and at the end of the day the "name" teams will be in the building at the Lahaina Civic Center. I'll admit it is odd that not a single team in this year's field is currently in the Top 25, but give it time, Maryland and Vanderbilt are knocking on the door.
The ESPN platform of networks will cover every game in this tourney with the championship to be decided on Wednesday evening. So make sure to tune in starting on Monday, the tourney will seem as if games are being played at every hour of the day when you factor in the Hawaii time difference, and enjoy coaches wearing ridiculous Hawaiian shirts and perhaps a chance to dream of a warmer climate.
As for predictions, this is just one part of what is a murderous early schedule for Gonzaga. The Bulldogs must be right on the brink of Gold Elite Status on Continental because they are flying all over the place. Maryland gets what should be the walkover first game against Chaminade to start things off while Arizona and Wisconsin could be one of the top first round matchups. Vandy and Maryland are on a collision course for a semi-final matchup which could very well open things up for Gonzaga on the other side of the bracket although the Zags will still have to knock off some quality teams to advance. Regardless I think this is the time for Gonzaga to pick up some critical early season wins and prop themselves up before they have to deal with Wake Forest, Duke, Oklahoma, and Illinois. Who does Mark Few think he is with this schedule? Dan Monson at Long Beach State (now this is a tough schedule)
Colorado and Gonazga get us started on Monday 10am Hawaii/3pm EST. Now the season will have begun. Oh and if your curious, next year looks pretty nice in Maui also.
-Posted by Cadillac Mescallade