The Maui Invitational has long been one of the most prestigious preseason tournaments in college basketball, and this year, the field is as stacked as ever. The Syracuse Orange reached the Final Four last year and face Minnesota in the first round. Gonzaga, who ended the regular season ranked No. 1, plays Dayton on the tournament's opening day.
The field features eight teams, including Division II host Chaminade. Each team is guaranteed three games at the Lahaina Civic Center from Nov. 25-27.
Nov. 25: Arkansas vs. California (3 p.m. ESPN2); Minnesota vs. Syracuse (5:30 p.m., ESPN2); Chaminade vs. Baylor (9:30 p.m., ESPNU); Gonzaga vs. Dayton (midnight, ESPN2)
Nov. 26: Semifinals (7 p.m., 9:30 p.m.)
Nov. 27: Championship (10 p.m.)
All times ET
The favorite: Syracuse
The Orange will be in their first year in the ACC. Their Thanksgiving week will begin with an evening tip (New York time) against Richard Pitino and the Golden Gophers, followed by a date with either Arkansas or California.
They return their top scorer, C.J. Fair, who will need to take on an even heavier load after Brandon Triche and James Southerland graduated and Michael Carter-Williams entered the NBA Draft. Fortunately for the Orange, head coach Jim Boeheim brings in five-star recruit Tyler Ennis, along with four-stars Tyler Roberson, B.J. Johnson and Ron Patterson. Rakeem Christmas, DaJuan Coleman and Jerami Grant will also need to take on larger roles.
Maui will provide an opportunity for Syracuse to grow against quality competition early in the season. A championship contest against either Baylor or Gonzaga would be their toughest challenge of the week and with three games in three days, we will get to see exactly how deep this Syracuse team can play.
Don't count out: Baylor
The Bears won the NIT last year and will hope to use that championship as a springboard into Maui and eventually the Big 12 season. They'll get Chaminade in the first round, but the Silverswords can hardly be looked at as pushovers after their double-digit win over Texas last year. Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson will be Baylor's go-to players this season. Each averaged 13 points and eight rebounds per game, and if sophomore Rico Gathers can contribute consistently, Baylor can have an intimidating frontcourt.
No strangers to Maui: Gonzaga
The Bulldogs will make their fourth appearance in Maui and currently hold a 6-3 all-time record. Gonzaga won the Invitational in 2009 with a thrilling win over Cincinnati and will look to take home the title once again, this time behind junior guard Kevin Pangos. Pangos averaged 12 points and three assists per game last year and is the Bulldogs' leading returning scorer. If the Bulldogs end up facing Baylor in the second round, Pangos could make life tough on a Bears team that does not have depth in the backcourt.
Potential Upset: Minnesota over Syracuse
How could the favorites to win the tournament be on upset alert in the first round? In a tournament as unpredictable as this, with solid teams that have so many question marks, anything is possible. Minnesota's Andre Hollins might be the best player in the tournament who you've never heard of. He led the Gophers in scoring last year and dropped 41 points on Memphis in the Battle 4 Atlantis. Austin Hollins joins him at guard, and if the two of them can figure out the legendary Syracuse 2-3 zone, the Orange might be in trouble. Of course it helps that Pitino is the Gophers' coach; he spent a few years as an assistant at Louisville for his father, Rick Pitino, who might also have a few tips on breaking the Orange zone.