LAHAINA, Hawaii — Some college basketball coaches choose to play easy nonconference games to build up their players’ confidence, while others want their teams to be tested right away.
Count the teams in the Maui Invitational in the test-right-away category.
One of the nation’s top holiday tournaments, the Maui Invitational is loaded again this season, with a pair of top-15 teams, three teams with recent Final Four appearances and an eight-team field that’s made 42 postseason appearances over the past seven seasons. Teams in the Maui field have gone on to win the national championship seven times, including North Carolina last season.
“It’s a big benchmark of where you are,” Michigan coach John Beilein said at a news conference overlooking Kaanapali Beach on Sunday. “It really is a chance for our kids, our coaches to say, ‘OK, I’ve got a lot of work to do’ and get on with the season.”
The Maui Invitational, which begins Monday at the tiny Lahaina Civic Center, has two teams with Final Four aspirations: No. 6 Wichita State and No. 13 Notre Dame.
The Shockers have the type of roster that could get them back to the Final Four following their surprising run in 2013. Wichita State has all five starters back from a 31-win team, led by the duo of Landry Shamet and Markis McDuffie, though both started the season recovering from injuries.
Shamet has returned from offseason surgery for a stress fracture in his right foot, but McDuffie is out until next month because of a stress fracture in his left foot. The Shockers open against California in Maui.
Notre Dame has quickly established itself as one of the ACC’s top teams since joining the conference in 2013, reaching the Elite Eight twice in the past three seasons. It has the type of team this year that could push for the program’s first Final Four appearance.
Led by preseason All-American Bonzie Colson, the Fighting Irish opened the season with three decisive victories and will face scrappy host Chaminade in their Maui opener.
“I know what position he is,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “He’s 6-foot-5, the wingspan is 7-2, he doesn’t have a neck, he doesn’t have calves, he just gets it done. He’s just a beautiful basketball player.”
The Maui Invitational opens with Marquette against Virginia Commonwealth and the first day closes with Michigan against LSU.
A few more things to look for in the 2017 Maui Invitational:
NEW COACHES: This year’s Maui bracket will feature three coaches in their first seasons: Cal’s Wyking Jones, LSU’s Will Wade and VCU’s Mike Rhoades. Jones was an assistant under Cuonzo Martin and was promoted when Martin left for Missouri. Wade left VCU to replace the fired Johnny Jones in Baton Rouge. Rhoades was an assistant to Shaka Smart on the 2011 Final Four team before spending the past three seasons as the head coach at Rice. Wade could have missed out on a trip to Maui by taking a new job, but the Tigers were headed to paradise, too. “I was bound and determined to get here one way or another,” Wade said. He would face his former team only in the championship game or in the loser’s bracket.
WOJO RETURNS: Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski knows a little about winning the Maui Invitational. He was on the 1997 Duke team that took the Maui title and was the tournament MVP after shutting down top-ranked Arizona’s Mike Bibby in the title game. “It was a great memory; obviously it was first time being here,” Wojciechowski said. “Just like this year, it was a strong field and we were fortunate enough to beat defending national champions Arizona in the championship game.” Wojciechowski also was an assistant to Mike Krzyzewski when the Blue Devils won Maui titles in 2001, 2007 and 2011.
FEAR THE SWORDS: Chaminade does not have the size or depth to match up with the big-program schools to come to Maui every year, but the Division II school from Oahu has a knack for pulling off upsets under the bright lights in Maui. The Silverswords are 7-87 all-time, but they’re fast, shoot well and have taken down big programs like Texas, Oklahoma, Villanova and Stanford in the past. Beating Notre Dame in the opener might be a lot to ask, but watch out for those ‘swords.