Well, this is it: The final day of the 2011 Maui Invitational. It's sad, I know, but we'll get through it together. The good news, of course, is there are still some really good games at the Lahaina Civic Center, including the tournament's dream final between Kansas and Duke.
We'll get to that one in a separate post -- it deserves that much. In the meantime, though, here's a glance at the three consolation affairs that will precede it. To the rundown:
Michigan vs. UCLA, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN/ESPN3): If UCLA was any other program -- and not, you know, UCLA -- Bruins fans could come out of Tuesday night feeling downright encouraged. Ben Howland's team has had much-publicized issues off the court, issues eclipsed only by his team's play on it. But UCLA looked, dare I say it, inspired in the second half against Kansas.
The Bruins appeared to be well on their way to a rout at the hands of KU, but they fought back in the second half, cutting the Jayhawks' lead from 17 to five with eight minutes remaining. UCLA couldn't keep the pace -- they scored all of four points in those final eight minutes -- but the simple fact that they didn't go away should be worth at least some measure of positivity.
The last chance for the Bruins to get out of Maui with a truly positive result comes Wednesday against Michigan. It promises to be an uphill battle. The Wolverines, like Georgetown and Tennessee (and Duke and Kansas, for that matter), appear to be weeks ahead in the vital areas of cohesion, intelligence and overall competency. UCLA still has miles to go in this department. As Memphis learned Monday, beating Michigan requires offensive precision, particularly from the guards; you have to move the ball quickly and accurately -- and you have to shoot it well -- to score against Beilein's coterie of zones.
Memphis vs. Georgetown, 5 p.m. ET (ESPN2/ESPN3): On Tuesday, Memphis coach Josh Pastner asserted how happy he was that his team was being tested early (and that his team's nonconference schedule would receive the commensurate boost in profile). That trend continues Wednesday. Like Tennessee, Georgetown has exceeded expectations in Maui, playing Kansas to a quality four-point loss before dropping Chaminade with ease in the consolation bracket. By the time the NCAA selection committee starts comparing resumés in March, wins over Georgetown and Tennessee could be plenty handy.
Of course, Memphis has to beat the Hoyas first, and that will hardly be easy. Georgetown appears to be ahead of schedule at this point in the season, and presents some specific challenges to this Tigers team. Memphis is at its best against man-to-man defense, when it can use its collective quickness and sprawling talent to get easy looks for Will Barton et al inside of 15 feet. But against Michigan coach John Beilein's tricky amorphous zones, the Tigers struggled. They settled for too many long-distance shots (20 3-point field goal attempts) and made too few (four). Too often, Michigan forced Memphis to play "east and west," as Pastner put it; like Tampa Bay Bucs RB LeGarrette Blount, this Memphis team is at its best when it attacks in a northerly direction.
But offense could be the least of Memphis' worries. On defense, it'll face a surprisingly precise Georgetown attack, a team that already understands the nuances of coach John Thompson III's Princeton offense and uses it to generate easy looks for sharpshooting guard Jason Clark and versatile forward Hollis Thompson. Memphis will have much to contend with here. Adding another early-season quality win won't come easy. But it should be fascinating to watch.
Tennessee vs. Chaminade, 2:30 p.m. ET (ESPNU/ESPN3): It's a bit of a shame Tennessee won't come away from Maui with a quality win, because the Volunteers played very well -- much better than anyone expected coming in -- in losses to Duke and Memphis. Alas, they'll have to settle for what should be a comparatively relaxing and straightforward victory over Chaminade. The Silverswords are scrappy, and they kept a disorganized UCLA team in check for a half, but Georgetown had no issues dispatching them with ease Tuesday.
If there's any particular reason to get excited for this one, it lies in the possibilities for Jeronne Maymon's final line. The UT forward tore Memphis to the tune of 32 points and 20 rebounds -- the first 30-point, 20-rebound game by a power-six player since Blake Griffin in 2009 -- and that was against a team with loads of athleticism and length. Provided Maymon isn't exhausted from the double-OT thriller, his line could again reach Griffinian levels.