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Carlos Previews Maui!

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Here's Carlos's preview of the Maui Invitational which he wrote for this year's Blue Devil Tip-Off. We left the Belmont preview in although the game has already been played.  As you can see, he was pretty much spot-on.

EA Sports Maui Invitational

Much like last season's College Basketball Experience Classic, the Maui Invitational is split into two divisions with one set of teams having no chance to advance to the championship round. Schools are grouped into either the Island Teams or the Mainland Teams with both sets of teams flying off to exotic locations after the opening round games. For the Island Teams that means Maui, luaus, and championship games broadcast nationally on ESPN. For the Mainland Teams that means Murfeesboro, TN, Sizzler, and games broadcast on a network to be determined. Sounds fair.

Fortunately for Duke they're one of the Island teams. Unfortunately they open the tournament against Belmont, a team that pushed Duke to the limit in the NCAA Tournament just a few years ago. Prepare yourself for plenty of video flashbacks of Belmont missing on three opportunities in the closing seconds as Duke escaped with a 1-point win.

Belmont Bruins

  • 30-5 overall, 19-1 (Atlantic Sun), NCAA Tournament (1st Round)
  • Key Returnees: Ian Clark (SG 12 ppg), Mick Hedgepeth (C 11 ppg, 6 rpg), Scott Saunders (C 10 ppg, 5 rpg)
  • Losses: Jordan Campbell (8 ppg)
  • Incoming Players: Spencer Turner (SG 6-3)

Usually you can count on most major basketball powers to ease into the season and open things up at home with an easy win. Duke's feasted on teams like Princeton, UNC-Greensboro, and Presbyterian in the last three years and a casual basketball fan may see Belmont on the schedule and expect more of the same.

But this year's Bruin squad returns 9 out of their top players from last season when they dominated the Atlantic Sun and made the NCAA Tournament. Coach Rick Byrd adopted a frenzied pace last season with 11 guys in double figure minutes and nobody seeing more than 25 minutes a night. They relied heavily on the perimeter attack, taking 25 three point attempts a night. Guard Ian Clark (6-3 junior) leads the way for them on the outside while seniors Mick Hedgepeth (6-9 / 235) and Scott Saunders (6-10 / 250) split minutes to give the Bruins a physical presence in the post.

It's rare for Duke to open the season against an NCAA Tournament team that's deeper and more experienced. Fans expecting to see the usual 30-point win on opening night may end up disappointed.

Tennessee Volunteers

  • 19-15 overall, 8-8 (SEC), NCAA Tournament (1st Round)
  • Key Returnees: Cameron Tatum (SG 9 ppg)
  • Losses: Scotty Hopson (17 ppg), Tobias Harris (15 ppg, 7 rpg), Melvin Goins (8 ppg), Brian Williams (7 ppg, 7 rpg)
  • Incoming Players: Josh Richardson (SF 6-5)

It's possible that former Head Coach Bruce Pearl could have left the Tennessee program in worse shape upon his departure but he would have had to have taken the furniture and practice balls with him on the way out the door to do so. As it stands Pearl leaves the Volunteers with an NCAA investigation hanging over their head, a roster depleted by graduation and early departures, and a recruiting class decimated by defections from players who didn't want to face the likely possibility of an unpleasant couple of years in Knoxville.

In light of the situation UT may have been better off looking for a new coach with FEMA experience on their resume. Instead they selected Cuonzo Martin who Duke fans may remember as "that other guy" on the Glen Robinson Purdue team that Duke defeated in the 1994 NCAA Tournament. Martin would love to have a guy like Robinson on this team… in fact he'd love to have anyone with experience on this team. Instead he'll try to build around Cameron Tatum, a 6-6 guard who has been a complementary player for most of his time at Tennessee. After that it's a collection of reserve players who saw limited action for the Vols, some unheralded freshmen, and a group of JUCO transfers.

Martin arrives at Tennessee after earning the reputation of a coach with a great deal of promise for the future. For Vol fans they'll need to be patient and wait for that promise as it's likely going to be a couple of years down the road before Martin has the players to build around.

Other possible opponents:

Michigan Wolverines

  • 21-14 overall, 9-9 (Big 10), NCAA Tournament (2nd Round)
  • Key Returnees: Tim Hardaway, Jr. (SG 14 ppg), Jordan Morgan (F 9 ppg, 5 rpg), Zack Novak (SG 9 ppg, 6 rpg), Stu Douglas (SG 7 ppg)
  • Losses: Darius Morris (15 ppg, 7 apg),
  • Incoming Players: Trey Burke (PG 6-1), Carlton Brundidge (PG 6-1)

Note to college Athletic Directors planning on stealing coaches from West Virginia: go for the basketball coach, not the football coach. While the Rich Rodriguez era of Wolverine football has been mercifully euthanized, the John Beilein experience is just getting cranked up in Ann Arbor. Michigan was picked to finish near the bottom of the Big 10 last season and after a 1-6 start to league play most prognosticators were ready to accept the praise for their astute predictions. But that's when the Wolverines went on a tear that saw their youthful squad put together an 8-3 run and make the NCAA Tournament where they were eliminated in the second round in a 73-71 loss to Duke.

The prospects for this upcoming season were looking exceptional until PG Darius Morris opted to enter the NBA draft. As it stands the Wolverines will still have a very experienced squad led by sophomore guard Tim Hardaway, Jr., a dynamic physical shooting guard. He and senior Zack Novak combine to give Beilein a potent long-range combo in the backcourt. Up front Michigan will rely on Jordan Morgan (6-8 / 240 lbs.) who is the team's strongest physical player and Evan Smotrycz (6-9 / 235 lbs.) a versatile offensive player with the range to draw defenders away from the basket and open up driving lanes for Hardaway.

Both the Blue Devils and the Wolverines are going to have a different look than the teams that played in last year's Tournament. While Michigan doesn't lose as many players the impact may be the same as Morris was such a key element in the Wolverine's offense. There are a number of guards on the roster who could step in but it will likely take some time to adjust to the loss of a player who was not only a prolific scorer but also so essential to setting up the rest of the offense.

Memphis Tigers

  • 25-10 overall, 10-6 (Con USA), NCAA Tournament (1st Round)
  • Key Returnees: Will Barton (SG 12 ppg, 5 rpg), Joe Jackson (PG 10 ppg, 3 apg), Tarik Black (PF 9 ppg, 5 rpg), Wesley Witherspoon (F 9 ppg)
  • Losses: Will Coleman (7 ppg, 5 rpg)
  • Incoming Players: Adonis Thomas (WF 6-6)

If you want a lesson in how recruiting hype doesn't always turn into freshman results you can look at last year's Memphis Tigers. It's not that a 25-10 record and NCAA Tournament appearance should be considered disappointing for second-year Head Coach Josh Pastner. But the Tigers 2010 recruiting class headlined by Will Barton, Joe Jackson, and Tarik Black was rated as one of the best in the nation and was even more impressive before forward Jelan Kendrick was dismissed from the team before ever playing a game.

The problem for Pastner was that he never knew what kind of effort he was going to get from his team. At their best the Tigers were one of the most talented teams in the country; at their worst they were one of the most inconsistent teams in the country. On paper the starting lineup should be set and strong. Jackson is an undersized but aggressive point guard who was struggled from the field last season but should improve. Barton is a big (6-6) shooting guard who likes to attack the basket and is probably the best pro prospect on the team. Like Jackson he struggled from the field last year. Black (6-8 / 250 lbs.) gives the Tigers an inside presence and Wesley Witherspoon is a talented combo forward who should see plenty of action at the PF spot. Throw in newcomer Adonis Thomas, an big-time athlete who will aggressively attack the basket and the Tigers have the kind of team that can beat any opponent on the nights when they shoot well.

The Tigers are versatile and athletic and, most importantly, a year older than last year which should hopefully mean more consistent. If they can develop a little more outside shooting and bring the same effort every night they should earn a high seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Georgetown Hoyas

  • 21-11 overall, 10-8 (Big East), NCAA Tournament (1st Round)
  • Key Returnees: Jason Clark (SG 12 ppg), Hollis Thompson (SF 9 ppg),
  • Losses: Austin Freeman (18 ppg), Chris Wright (13 ppg, 5 apg)
  • Incoming Players: Tyler Adams (C 6-9), Mikael Hopkins (C 6-8), Otto Porter (SF 6-9)

For last three years Hoya Coach John Thompson III has approached the upcoming season with the comfort of knowing his backcourt was set with the return of PG Chris Wright and SG Austin Freeman. Sadly for Thompson that duo has moved on and the Hoyas will need to lean heavily on Jason Clark and Hollis Thompson who will man the wing positions to lead the team.

Everything else for the Hoyas is up in the air. Markel Starks is expected to take over at the point but was merely adequate filling in for Wright last year when the senior was injured. In the frontcourt 6-10 Henry Sims returns for his senior season after playing a reserve role for most of his first three years. Sophomore Nate Lubick, a former HS teammate of Duke's Alex Murphy, figures to start at PF. Freshman Otto Porter, a 6-9 wing player with great length and a solid handle may emerge as the team's best offensive player.

It's unusual to think of a Hoya team that's not built around a strong presence in the post but most of the talent on this year's squad is on the wings. Clark, Thompson, and Porter make for a solid trio but Thompson will need players to step up in the post and at the point if the Hoyas want to challenge in the Big East.

Kansas Jayhawks

  • 25-3 overall, 14-2 (Big 12), NCAA Tournament (Elite 8)
  • Key Returnees: Tyshawn Taylor (PG 9 ppg, 5 apg), Thomas Robinson (PF 8 ppg, 6 rpg)
  • Losses: Marcus Morris (17 ppg, 7 rpg), Markieff Morris (14 ppg, 8 rpg), Tyrel Reed (10 ppg), Josh Selby (8 ppg)
  • Incoming Players: Ben McLemore (SG 6-4), Naadir Tharpe (PG 5-11), Jamari Traylor (PF 6-8), Braeden Anderson (PF (6-8)

Jayhawk Coach Bill Self faces a big challenge as he prepares to replace almost 14 feet worth of Morris. Marcus and brother Markieff may have been college basketball's most prolific twin teammates not to play for Stanford (Lopez and Collins) and their departure leaves Kansas looking to replace 31 points and 15 rebounds a game. Fortunately for the Jayhawks the cupboard isn't exactly bare with junior PF Thomas Robinson is expected to have a breakout year. Don't be surprised to see the 6-9 athletic big man be a lottery pick in next year's NBA draft.

The question for Self is where to turn for the rest of the lineup. Tyshawn Taylor returns for his senior season and will start at PG after three inconsistent seasons. Freshman Ben McLemore can score and should eventually start at the SG spot and fellow freshmen Braeden Anderson and Jamari Traylor will compete to complement Robinson in the frontcourt.

For the past few years the Jayhawks have featured teams with great depth and talent as Self has reloaded and been a consistent fixture in the top 10. That streak will be tested this year as Kansas has a potential first team All-American in Robinson but faces a lot of questions in the rest of the lineup.

UCLA Bruins

  • 23-11 overall, 13-5 (Pac 12), NCAA Tournament (2nd Round)
  • Key Returnees: Reeves Nelson (PF 14 ppg, 9 rpg), Josh Smith (11 ppg, 6 rpg), Lazeric Jones (9 ppg)
  • Losses: Malcom Lee (13 ppg), Tyler Honeycutt (13 ppg, 7 rpg)
  • Incoming Players: David Wear (PF 6-10), Travis Wear (PF 6-10), Norman Powell (SG 6-4)

There was a time when Ben Howland had the Bruins rolling to 3 straight Final Fours and people were talking about UCLA turning into, well… UCLA. As it turns out, having a roster filled with future NBA studs like Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, Darren Collison, and Luc Mbah a Moute had a lot to do with that and in the years following their departure the Bruins performance has been somewhat less .

This year's Bruin squad could possibly make a return to the Final Four if Howland can find some backcourt talent to complement what should be one of the strongest frontlines in college basketball. UCLA will be anchored - almost literally - by 6-10 / 305 lbs. sophomore Josh Smith who surprised many observers with his quickness and agility in the post last year despite being only slightly smaller than Pauley Pavilion. Howland will need him to improve his conditioning and get more out of him than the 21 minutes per game he saw in his freshman campaign. He's joined up front by Reeves Nelson who has had 2 very good seasons with the Bruins and should be an All-Pac 12 performer this season.

UCLA will have depth in the frontcourt as David and Travis Wear become eligible after transferring in from UNC at the end of 2010. (The Wear twins are joined by another UNC refugee Larry Drew II who left the Tar Heels in the middle of last season. Drew won't be eligible to play but will undoubtedly add calming veteran leadership to the Bruin locker room.)

Just how good UCLA is will depend on what they get out of their backcourt. Senior Jerime Anderson looked to be the team's starting point guard until off the court issues found him suspended indefinitely leaving fellow senior Lazeric Jones likely to get the bulk of the minutes. Tyler Lamb, a shooting guard who couldn't shoot last year (33% from the field) will battle freshman Norman Powell for the SG position.

Howland was tantalizingly close to having a terrific team this year had Malcom Lee (PG) and Tyler Honeycutt (F) not left early for the NBA. Instead he has a team with a great strength in the frontcourt and a lot of questions everywhere else. The Bruins may be a year away from a real powerhouse (assuming they could retain Nelson and Smith one more year and land prospects Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson) but if some of their backcourt players can develop they may be a surprise visitor on Bourbon Street in April.

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