It’s time for the 2013 Maui Invitational, an annual tournament that has been played near the beginning of each season since 1984. This year there are eight teams: California, Arkansas, Chaminade, Baylor, Gonzaga, Syracuse, Minnesota, and Dayton. Three of these teams are ranked in the top 25 teams in the nation: Baylor, Gonzaga, and Syracuse (ranked No. 20, 13 and 9 respectively).
The season is still very young and this tournament isn’t what’s going to make or break a team’s year; however, the basketball played in Maui this week will give fans an idea of what to expect for the rest of the season. A good start for the California Golden Bears will set the tone for the remainder of their games, which will be nice for when they get into conference play. Conference play in the Pac-12 is going to be difficult, so getting wins under its belt is essential for California.
Obviously, winning the tournament would be the best possible result for California. It would be a great resume builder come tournament selection time and would give the team a ton of confidence. Can they do it? I think they can.
They can, but there is a slight caveat to that sentiment. This year is the first year that every team participating in the tournament has played at least one game and is undefeated; their combined record is 30-0. California currently has a record of 4-0, but the other teams also have essentially the same record. This means each team is probably very similar in skill and no one team is a lot better than the others. If I had to pick who I thought was the weakest team, I’d have to go with Chaminade, who historically has a 7-78 mark in the tournament it hosts. If California faces them, however, they will need to work to stop Christopher Varidel, the 6-foot-3 guard who is averaging 30 points per game so far this season.
California’s first opponent will be the Arkansas Razorbacks. Arkansas has won three games, two of which were against teams who have winning records. In fact, their most recent win against the Southern Methodist Mustangs (89-78) was the only loss the Mustangs have suffered so far in the five games they’ve played. California has yet to face a team with a winning record. That being said, they’ve won every game by a very clear margin. Arkansas will be their first taste of playing a decent team. The key for California will be perimeter defense since the Razorbacks have been shooting 41.2% from three-point land this season.
If the Golden Bears defeat Arkansas, they will take on the winner of the Syracuse and Minnesota game. If the winner is Syracuse, California would get a rematch of the 66-60 loss they suffered to Syracuse in last year’s NCAA tournament. Syracuse’s backcourt is young and inexperienced. They eked out a 56-50 win against the St. Francis Terriers (whose only decent win was against Miami) on Nov. 18. In contrast, Dayton beat the same team on Nov. 16, 78-58. If the winner is Minnesota, California will find itself against playing a team with a very good full-court press. The Golden Gophers, led by Rick Pitino’s son, are averaging nine steals per game. One of Minnesota’s wins was a decisive one against Richmond (74-59), which has only lost to the Golden Gophers and No. 24 UNC.
I would imagine if California wins its second game, the Golden Bears will face Gonzaga. Gonzaga’s center, Przemek Karnowski, is 7-feet and played for the Polish national team last summer. He will be difficult to handle for California’s frontcourt. The Bulldogs went 32-3 last season, but they did lose a couple of key players. That being said, don’t expect this team to be weak by any stretch of the imagination.
In summary, the 2013 Maui Invitational is winnable for the California Golden Bears. They have as good a team as anyone else in the tournament. Since every team is undefeated, you can expect a couple of things: one is to be surprised at least once (i.e., there will be at least one upset) and the other is good basketball. And every team is guaranteed three games, so if California loses its first game, they will still have chances to face and defeat good teams.