The 2015 Maui Jim Maui Invitational field has been known for a while, but the bracket for the late November tournament was just revealed earlier this week.
This year’s field includes four of the top 10 winningest programs in college basketball history (Kansas, St. John’s, UCLA and Indiana) and a combined 20 national championships.
Here’s our early primer for the 2015 Maui Invitational:
Dates: November 23-25
Venue: Lahaina Civic Center – Maui, Hawaii (2,400)
Broadcast information: ESPN family of networks
Participants: Chaminade, Indiana, Kansas, St. John’s, UCLA, UNLV, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest
Matchups: 2015 Maui Jim Maui Invitational Bracket
The favorite: Kansas. The Jayhawks are a top 10 team in nearly every early top 25 for next season and for good reason. Guards Devonte’ Graham, Frank Mason III, Brannen Greene and Wayne Selden Jr. are all back, as are Jamari Traylor and Perry Ellis in the frontcourt. Bill Self also welcomes McDonald’s All-Americans Carlton Bragg and Cheick Diallo. Kansas already has a leg up on most of the field because it played in the World University Games earlier this month in Gwangju, South Korea and won a gold medal.
Best opening day matchup: UCLA-UNLV. While the other three opening games should have clear favorites, this one is a bit of a tossup on paper. Both teams have strength on the interior. UNLV boasts freshman McDonald’s All-American Stephen Zimmerman and one of the better shotblockers in the country in sophomore Goodluck Okonoboh while UCLA counters with a 7-footer in Thomas Welsh and also Tony Parker and Jonah Bolden, who was ineligible last season. Steve Alford’s son, Bryce, also returns for the Bruins. UCLA will be looking to build off its surprising run to the Sweet 16 last season while UNLV coach Dave Rice faces some pressure to win this season after two straight NCAA tournament misses.
Team flying under the radar: Vanderbilt. The absolute dominance of the SEC by Kentucky and Florida in recent years have pushed some of the league’s other programs down the national pecking order. However, the Commodores look like a solid bet to make some noise nationally in 2015-2016. Kevin Stallings returns his three leading scorers in Damian Jones, Riley LaChance and Wade Baldwin from a team that finished 21-14 and won a pair of games in the N.I.T. Given that both teams finished in the top 20 nationally a season ago in adjusted offensive efficiency, a potential day two matchup of Indiana-Vanderbilt would be intriguing, if it materializes.
A player to watch for each team:
· Chaminade: Kuany Kuany. The Swords, a Division II program, are the annual Maui hosts and are afforded the luxury of playing Kansas to open the event. Kuany, a Pacific West Conference third team honoree last season, averaged 15.1 points in 2014-2015.
· Indiana: Yogi Ferrell. Indiana’s point guard returned for his senior season with the goal of leading the Hoosiers on a deep NCAA tournament run. The bright lights of this event and a national audience are likely to bring out some memorable performances.
· Kansas: Cheick Diallo. No, he’s not going to be Kansas’ leading scorer. But Diallo, the MVP of the McDonald’s All-American game, plays with a ridiculous motor and will be a force around the rim. In a field stocked with frontcourt talent, look for Diallo to rise to the occasion.
· St. John’s: Durand Johnson. First year coach Chris Mullin has a major rebuilding task on his hands, but Johnson brings some much needed experience. The former Pittsburgh guard, who sat out last season due to a suspension, can play immediately and has one year of eligibility.
· UCLA: Bryce Alford. He can flat out fill it up from the perimeter, as SMU and UAB learned in the 2015 NCAA tournament. Alford went for 50 points in those two NCAA wins and made close to three 3s per game.
· UNLV: Stephen Zimmerman. One of the most coveted recruits in the 2015 class elected to stay home and there’s pressure to produce right away. The 7-footer is a skilled post player who runs the floor well and immediately becomes the centerpiece for the Runnin’ Rebels.
· Vanderbilt: Damian Jones. He’s the best player in the field that you’ve may have never heard of. At 6-foot-10 and 240 pounds, he was the leading scorer, rebounder and shot blocker for the Commodores last season. Draft Express ranks him No. 16 on its 2016 mock draft.
· Wake Forest: Cody Miller-McIntyre. An all-ACC honorable mention selection as a junior, Miller-McIntyre averaged 14.5 points, 4.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds last season.
Filed to: 2015 Maui Invitational