Just days before Thanksgiving, the Arizona men’s basketball team will travel to the island of Maui, Hawaii, and compete in one of college basketball’s most celebrated events: the Maui Jim Maui Invitational. An eight-team, three-day tournament takes place at the Lahaina Civic Center, a historic venue seating just 2,400 that has hosted the tournament since 1987.
The upcoming trip will be the Wildcats’ eighth trip to the island, but their first under Tommy Lloyd, as the program’s last visit to the island was in 2018 and Sean Miller ended with a record one win and two losses. The school holds a 14-8 record in the tournament and brought the trophy back to Tucson in 2000 and 2014.
This year’s field is brimming with talent, one that will keep viewers glued to their television screens for three straight days. The tournament will take place from November 21st to 23rd. Here’s a breakdown of the current teams set to join Tommy Lloyd and his Arizona Wildcats.
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The University of Arkansas Razorbacks are likely considered one of the frontrunners to win this year’s tournament until five-star freshman Nick Smith Jr., who is dealing with a knee injury, becomes available. Anthony Black and Jordan Walsh will join Smith as the focus of success this winter in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The group will be battle-hardened early in their collegiate career, and head coach Eric Musselman likely understands there will be growing pains as he seeks to replace nearly his entire rotation from a team that lost to Duke to clinch the Final Four reach. The only returnee from last year’s nine-man rotation is junior guard Vomte Davis, who averaged 8.3 points per game. Davis needs to lead this bunch early on in the tournament, especially when Smith is sidelined. The Razorbacks play the University of Louisville in the opening round on November 21.
The upperclassmen must lead the way if the University of Cincinnati and head coach Wes Miller are to leave Maui victorious. The Bearcats are likely to be viewed as underdogs in all of their competitions. The Bearcats had a disappointing record of seven wins and 11 losses in the American Athletic Conference last season. However, Miller has high ambitions as he hopes to transform the culture of Cincinnati basketball. Compared to recent years, Miller and his staff have a more veteran backcourt, as David DeJulius and Rob Phinisee will be in charge with Jeremiah Davenport handling the rock. DeJulius and Phinisee will enter their fifth year of NCAA eligibility.
Coincidentally, the two began their college careers by playing for their respective programs at the Big 10 conference. The key factor though is that hopefully their leadership will pay off as both have played on many big stages in their collegiate careers. The program landed transfer landers Nolley II from the University of Memphis and has high hopes he can be a top option offensively. The senior will bring physicality and instant shooting ability to Miller’s offense and can score in bundles when in a rhythm. Arizona needs to focus on Nolley defensively in the opening round.
Basketball fanatics at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, have had a roller coaster ride with their Bluejays in recent years. Fans have witnessed productive seasons of Bluejay basketball coupled with off-court troubles involving head coach Greg McDermott. However, expectations should be high if last season’s finish was any indication of what will happen this winter. McDermott brings back most of his production while making a few splashes in the transfer portal. The Bluejay roster is highlighted by returning sophomores Arthur Kaluma and Ryan Nembhard, brother of Indiana Pacers guard Andrew Nembhard. Both averaged double-digit chances last season and will look to lighten the offense alongside Ryan Kalkbrenner, the big man up front. Mobile 7-foot-1-center Kalkbrenner is returning for his junior season after finishing second on the team as a sophomore at 13.1 points per game.
Baylor Scheierman landed in the 2022 off-season. Prior to his move to Omaha, Scheierman spent three seasons with the South Dakota State University Jackrabbits and was named Summit League Player of the Year last season. With a smooth and fluid release, Scheierman is a deadly shot from the outside. The left-hander showed a glimpse of his potential in the first round of the NCAA tournament against Providence last season, scoring 18 points. Scheierman has the potential to wreak havoc in Maui during this tournament. The Bluejays are a dark horse in this tournament and will open against the Texas Tech University Red Raiders.
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Kenny Payne’s era could not have started worse as his group lost their first two competitions, one of which was an exhibition, but both losses went to lesser opponents. The basketball world would be somewhat surprised if Louisville won a game in this tournament after their lackluster performances early in the 2022-2023 season. The program has yet to stabilize since head coach Chris Mack left in 2021. El Ellis and Mike James will likely be in the backcourt. A former 4-star recruit, James has the potential to become a star in Louisville. However, the pressure the 6-foot-5 guard will see on offense could be too much for him to propel the Cardinals forward throughout the tournament.
Former five-star recruit Brandon Huntley-Hatfield left Knoxville, Tennessee to join Payne. Huntley-Hatfield, who finished high school, was one of the most sought after prospects but has yet to put all the pieces together since seeing the more advanced game that presents the college level. However, there is still time for the forward to demonstrate his potential before possibly putting his name in the NBA draft. Louisville will face the challenge of the Arkansas Razorbacks’ trio of freshmen in their first game.
Ohio State Horse Chestnuts:
Plenty of new faces joined head coach Chris Holtmann and his coaching staff in Columbus, Ohio, at Ohio State University this summer in hopes of building a season in which the Buckeyes rebounded in the second round of the March Madness Tournament. The Buckeyes have had minimal postseason success since Holtmann acquired Thad Matta in 2017, and finding replacements for EJ Liddell and Malaki Branham could spell trouble. Holtmann will be drawing on transfers Tanner Holden, Sean McNeil and Isaac Likekele. Holden, coupled with his production at Wright State University, flew under the radar this offseason, where the transfer’s landing wasn’t as heavily promoted as it should have been. McNeil provided West Virginia University basketball head coach Bob Huggins with constant shooting for the Mountaineers during his time in Morgantown, West Virginia.
Opponents must make it a priority to run McNeil off the 3-point line. Likekele spent time with head coach Mike Boynton and Oklahoma State University before joining the Buckeyes, known as one of the more impactful rim protectors in the Big 12 conference. Likekele was an important part of Cade Cunningham’s success in Stillwater, Oklahoma before he went to the NBA. Likekele will spend most of her time living on the edge and cleaning the glass. Finally, junior forward Zed Key will round out the run-up. Many NBA scouts believe he’s ready for a breakout season after showing his potential in his first two seasons at Columbus. The Buckeyes won’t get many championship votes ahead of the tournament, but they can certainly lead the table as the talent is there.
Aztecs of San Diego State:
The Aztecs from San Diego State University are bringing a handful of veterans to the island, a side that is bringing back four of five starters from an appearance at the 2022 NCAA tournament. Seattle University star and transfer Darrion Trammell will take the lone spot on the lineup after two seasons averaging over 17 points per game for the Redhawks. A high-volume scorer, Trammell thrives on pick-and-roll because of his quick decision-making. The senior also influences play on the defensive end, a troublesome defender chasing down opposing guards. With his fast feet, the constant ball pressure and the high level of motor skills, it will not be an easy task for opposing ball carriers.
Two-way guard Matt Bradley, one of collegiate basketball’s top players, found himself on the preseason watch list for the Jerry West Awards, which recognizes many of the nation’s top shooting guards. One of the unique aspects of Bradley’s game is his quick first step. Then, in isolation situations, the 6-foot-4 guard can be seen taking defenders off the dribble and finishing on the edge. Bradley’s skills combined with his experience make him one of the more dynamic two-way guards not just in the tournament but in the country.
With a wingspan of 7ft 4in, Mensah always finds a way to influence game by living along the glass and guarding the edge. Given his large physique, Mensah can walk reasonably well for someone his size. Lamont Butler and Keshad Johnson will help round out the starting XI. The Aztecs have enough talent to win three games in Maui, but there are some question marks about the second unit. Head coach Brian Dutcher and his group will play in the lower half of the tournament and open against Ohio State and face Arizona or Cincinnati in their second game.
Texas Tech Red Raiders
Head coach Mark Adams will be without his newly acquired star at Fardaws Aimaq throughout the tournament as he continues to recover from a foot injury. Aimaq, a transfer from Utah Valley University, averaged just under 19 points per game for the Wolverines last season. Instead, Adams will rely heavily on fifth-year senior Kevin Obanor, who is returning for his second season in Lubbock, Texas. Obanor was instrumental in Oral Roberts University’s historic run in the NCAA tournament in 2021. Daniel Batcho will likely start alongside Obanor on the apron. Batcho is entering his sophomore year and Adams expects to make a huge leap forward from a season ago when he was averaging just under 10 minutes per game.
De’Vion Harmon will orchestrate offense for the Red Raiders, who left the University of Oregon last spring and have joined his third school for the past four years. In the late summer of last year, Kerwin Walton, formerly of the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, joined the Red Raiders. Walton offers length on the defensive end and a reliable catch-and-shoot option down the perimeter. In his freshman year under head coach Roy Williams in North Carolina, Walton shot 42% from long range. The Red Raiders will be thin up front throughout the tournament, but Adams’ wits and the stability of their backcourt are enough to see them compete for three days.
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