Tournament bracket for the EA SPORTS Maui Invitational
When and where: Nov. 21-23 at the Lahaina Civic Center in Maui, Hawaii (There will be 11 opening games at various campus locations from Nov. 11-20. Those matchups can be found on the above PDF bracket.)
Initial thoughts: Take one glance at the 2011 Maui bracket and, if you're like me, the word "uncertainty" will immediately spring to mind. Every team in this field -- even recent behemoths like Duke and Kansas -- is facing new expectations, important personnel additions, or some mix of all three. … The tournament will be one of our first glimpses at the new-look Blue Devils, who return without Kyrie Irving, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith, but will add Austin Rivers and a handful of talented recruits to last year's role players. … Kansas is in a similar situation, having lost the Morris twins, Josh Selby, and a bevy of senior guards. This will be the first time we'll get to see if forward Thomas Robinson is ready for his much-awaited star turn. … Memphis is an intriguing group that returns all of the freshmen from last year's talented but unready team that finally figured it out in March. Does the addition of high-profile recruit Adonis Thomas justify some of the early Tiger hype? Michigan will be a tough out, even without guard Darius Morris, who left for the NBA draft this summer. … After the losses of Chris Wright and Austin Freeman, is Georgetown in line for a mini-rebuilding year? With a first-round matchup against Kansas, there won't be much time to find out. … See? Uncertainty. Compared to today, this tournament should shed a lot of light on a handful of intriguing 2011-12 teams. And yes, it's tough to make too many judgements based on what happens in Maui in November. But last November, in Maui, a guy named Kemba Walker emerged as a force in his very first game. He never looked back, and we all know what happened next.
Matchup I can't wait to see: Georgetown-Kansas might be the marquee matchup of the first round, but I admit I'm more intrigued by Memphis-Michigan. The Wolverines made serious progress under John Beilein in 2011, but can this team improve even without its assist-prone former point guard? Meanwhile, it will be fascinating to see just how far along Memphis is by this point. The Tigers were clearly talented last season, but too often looked disorganized, undersized and overmatched. In other words, they looked young. How this team handles an experienced Michigan squad in the first round -- not just whether they win or lose, but how their progress seems to be coming along -- might be the most important immediate impression any team in the field can make.
Potential matchup I'd like to see: Kansas-Duke. OK, so this isn't the most creative selection in the field. I'll give you that. And no, neither team appears to be one of their respective program's vintage squads. But the truth is, we just don't know. The best way to find out is to test each team against the best possible early-season competition and -- with all due respect to the rest of the teams in this bracket -- that's what the dream final would look like. Plus, Kansas vs. Duke for the Maui title in November? These two blue bloods haven't faced off since Nick Collison exploded for 33 and 19 in KU's 2003 Sweet 16 win. Whether you recognize the key names in the jerseys or not, you'll be watching.
Key players to watch
Austin Rivers, Duke: The freshman Duke guard might be the best player in the incoming class. He's certainly one of its most hyped. He's also one of its most important. If he excels -- as other top highly touted freshman guards have excelled in recent years -- Duke could be a national title contender. If he struggles, the Blue Devils won't be quite as fearsome as we've come to expect.
Thomas Robinson, Kansas: If Kansas is expected to continue its seven-year reign over a talented Big 12, Robinson is going to have to make a crucial leap from promising rebound-machine to all-around interior force. Robinson looked ready in camps this summer, but camps are a far cry from live game action.
Joe Jackson, Memphis: Though fellow freshman Will Barton arrived with most of the hype, guard Joe Jackson was the best player for Memphis throughout 2011. Unfortunately, he was also a turnover machine. Tigers coach Josh Pastner is hoping a year of experience, and the arrival of another vaunted recruiting class, will help the Tigers mature in vital ways in 2012. But to do so, Jackson will have to prove he can lead his team without committing so many possession-killing errors.
Tim Hardaway Jr., Michigan: The son of Tim Hardaway surprised some folks last season, morphing into an effective Big Ten player before many believed he could. Now, with his lanky frame and intuitive scoring, it's time to take his game to the next level. If Michigan hopes to keep pace with last year's revival, that much will be obligatory.
Travis and David Wear, UCLA: The Wear twins -- the Wearii? -- were highly touted McDonald's All-Americans when they arrived at North Carolina last year. Just as quickly, they departed, heading back to their native coast to play for Ben Howland at UCLA. If they're as good as advertised, they'll provide some added interior strength to a lineup that already boasts a massive forward with massive potential in sophomore Joshua Smith.
Predicted winner: Duke Blue Devils. In a tournament filled with new faces and reloading giants, it's important to remember that those Duke role players -- Andre Dawkins, Seth Curry, the brothers Plumlee -- are already pretty good. Even if Rivers doesn't hit his stride this early, Duke will still be the most complete, most prepared, and arguably most talented team in the field.
Who others are picking:
Andy Katz: Duke
Diamond Leung: Duke
Dana O'Neil: Memphis