Inside College Hoops

2018 Maui Invitational Predictions

The best tournament of the season is set to kickoff later today in Maui. Three of the top nine teams in KenPom (Duke, Gonzaga, Auburn) lead the field and we have no Chaminade for the first time ever. Here are my predictions from 8th Place through 1st…

8. Xavier – Tough to pick anyone in this field to finish in Eighth place, but I am going with Xavier. Travis Steele has seen his Musketeers struggle in each of their first three games and trending in the wrong direction heading into Maui. The Musketeers lost at home against Wisconsin handily back on 11/13 and Evansville (picked last in the MVC) gave them a scare. Xavier still has some solid players and were in my preseason bracket but have a lot to work on. Win or lose, hopefully we get to see Quentin Goodin put on a show this week.

7. Iowa State – Coming off a very unusual last place Big XII season, the Cyclones are poised to turn things around in 2018-19. They arrive in Maui with multiple big opportunities in front of them. Starting with a very winnable game against Arizona. Unfortunately for the Cyclones, they will likely be without Cameron Lard (6-9, 225. 12.2 PPG and 8.1 RPG avg. last year) and possibly Solomon Young (6-8, 245). Editor’s note: I am typing this oversees with no access to wi-fi to confirm injury status). Iowa State should only get stronger as the season goes on. In Maui, I see a happy ending with the Cyclones getting by Xavier in the 7th place game. However, I foresee a couple of tight losses precluding that games against both Arizona and…

6. Illinois – Brad Underwood has been building since day one in Champaign. In comes Ayo Dosunmu. A five-star in-state recruit that has the type of talent to help lead a complete turnaround this season. Dosunmu came in with back to back State Championships, playing for the Team USA U18 team this summer and winning gold, and has a reputation for being unselfish and a lockdown defender. Not exactly your typical blue chip. I mention this because this can serve as Dosunmu’s spotlight tournament with all the ESPN coverage this upcoming week. Illinois as a team however was exposed a bit at home against Georgetown and the high hopes have crashed down some. Georgetown has since gone to Jamaica and lost to LMU and barely survived against South Florida. So the Illini might not be ready for this. I don’t give them much of a chance against a loaded Gonzaga team in round 1. But I think the Illini come to play on day 2. The losers bracket games require a refreshed mentality, and I sense the Cyclones will be a little mentally fatigued after what figures to be a war against Arizona, giving Illinois an edge psychologically. On the final day, I see the Illini being slightly outclassed by…

5. San Diego State – The Aztecs come to Maui representing the Mountain West Conference. I say that not to state the obvious, but because how the Aztecs perform here will go a long way toward impacting the perception of the conference, specifically in Nevada’s case, who figures to have a successful year. With a couple of wins, the Aztecs show that they are likely worthy of early At Large consideration and can help the leagues aspirations for multiple bids. They open with Duke, which only helps strengthen their Non-Conference schedule, however I do not think the Aztecs have the weapons to hang with Duke. This should help them regroup and get ready for Xavier on the second day, and I like the Aztecs there. Finishing up with a 5th place win over Illinois should keep Aztec and MWC fans encouraged heading into December.

4. Arizona – How will Arizona hold up mentally with the ESPN cameras on them for three days? Only time will tell. Luckily there is a lot of basketball to squeeze in and that should allow Sean Miller’s club to focus on winning. I like what Brandon Williams and Brandon Randolph have shown in the early going. Arizona has yet face any kind of serious test, so that all changes now. Based on what I said about Iowa State and their injury issues, I think that leaves the door open for Arizona to pick up a big win on the first day. From there, the Cats run into Gonzaga and I see a lot of mismatches in that one on paper. That leaves Arizona to face another Final Four contender in Auburn, and I don’t picture that one going well for Arizona either. All in all, if this plays out, it’s a success. Beating Iowa State and taking losses to Gonzaga and Auburn – no shame in that. Plus, the team learns a lot about themselves in the process.

3. Auburn – Tigers looked very sharp in their three tune-up contests prior to heading to Maui. That included a win over nationally ranked Washington. A game in which Auburn thoroughly dominated from the opening tip.  Auburn opens against Xavier and it could get interesting should the Tigers get into foul trouble or not take care of the ball. Based on what we have seen thus far, I do not anticipate Auburn struggling in that game and should comfortably get into the Semifinals for a showdown with Duke. Auburn has the athleticism to hang with Duke I believe. They will not out-athlete them, but certainly can hold their own. Ultimately, they fall short, I think Duke is equipped for the spotlight this season. Auburn will be happy to see Arizona in the 3rd Place game. Auburn finishes strong and lands in 3rd.

2. Gonzaga – Talk about Final Four contenders, these next two teams were picked by several of my peers to compete in the Final Four. Which would setup for an epic Maui Invitational Championship Game. Seems to happen annually right? This is the first Maui Invitational without Chaminade in the main bracket, and while that bothers me, it allows for a field even more loaded than before. I think the Zags come out and play very well in wins over Illinois and Arizona. Should allow them to be very fresh for Duke in the Title game. At some point, missing Killian Tillie is going to impact the Zags and I think that moment happens against Duke. Filip Petrusev has looked good in his absence to support the frontcourt, but this will be a different type of test and the Zags will fall just short.

1. Duke – The Blue Devils have already created quite a buzz with their blowout victory over Kentucky on opening night in Indianapolis. Since then they slept walked to a 20+ point win over Army and destroyed a MAC contender in Eastern Michigan. Now with the super quartet of Freshmen: RJ Barrett, Zion Williamson, Ty Jones, and Cam Reddish – Coach K’s crew invades Maui on a mission. The talent on Duke’s team is the richest in the nation. The personalities of the players seem to fit the spotlight. Although we are still early on, I am starting to get the feeling that the way they will get beat is by beating themselves, or lack of focus. I do not see that happening this week. I think Duke beats SDSU comfortably, then beats Auburn and Gonzaga in closer matchups with Duke controlling both games.