HONOLULU — No. 1 Kansas, No. 2 Purdue, No. 4 Marquette, No. 7 Tennessee, No. 11 Gonzaga, Top 25 honorable-mention UCLA, Syracuse and Chaminade. An in-season tournament to bolster resumes for March. A bigger purpose in the end.
The head coaches of the eight teams making up the field for the 40th annual Maui Invitational sat adjacent one another Sunday morning at the Hawai’i Convention Center, sharing smiles and quick quips with the media ahead of what looks to be one of the strongest in-season tournament fields ever.
With five of the eight teams in the AP Top 25 coaches’ poll from Nov. 13, a UCLA program that received Top 25 consideration, a Syracuse program under new leadership in first-year HC Adrian Autry that has never lost in the event historically, and Cinderella-hopefuls in host Chaminade, hype for the annual event has grown for months. Following the devastation and destruction of the wildfires on Maui, the tournament site was shifted from the historic Lahaina Civic Center to the University of Hawai’i-Mānoa’s SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center so that the usual location of the event could serve as a hub for recovery efforts on Maui.
Members of the field quickly worked to find ways to help and found it to be the participating programs’ duties to help in any way possible. The number one team in the nation, the Kansas Jayhawks, played an exhibition game against Illinois to benefit the island of Maui that doubled as a learning experience on the court. The Jayhawks fell at Illinois, 82-75, learning quickly how human the team was despite the national love. Matched up first against host Chaminade, who helped in the creation of the tournament with an upset over three-time national player of the year Ralph Sampson and top-ranked Virginia in 1982, Self is intent on not allowing history to repeat itself.
“We’ll definitely address that with our players and today’s practice will totally be committed to preparation for Chaminade,” the Jayhawks’ head coach said Sunday when asked about the 41-year-old upset. “It’s [a nervous feeling] because [Chaminade] is playing with house money, nothing to lose… We have got to play loose, too. You’ve got to learn how to play in games like this, so this will be good for our guys.”
While an update in the upset-record books for the Silverswords is the dream, Chaminade looks to benefit from what multiple coaches and media members have referred to as the “best field ever” over the course of the three-day event. The Swords are guaranteed to play one of the two teams from Marquette-UCLA on the second day of the tournament, two more schools who secured top-4 seeds in last year’s NCAA tournament.
Overall, the field outside of Chaminade features programs that have a combined 37 appearances in the event, led by Kansas’ eight appearances and followed closely by UCLA’s seven trips. With plenty of experience in the head coaching chairs, the hardwood chess matches begin on Monday at 9:30 am HT/2:30 pm ET with Tennessee taking on Syracuse. Orange HC Adrian Autry, who took over this offseason for longtime head coach and Hall of Famer Jim Boeheim, is entering the week confident despite being the freshest among the coaches in the first seat.
“It’s exciting. I’m a competitor,” Autry said of being involved in such a stacked field. “You know, Syracuse, we don’t take a backseat to anyone. We want to come out, we want to compete, we want to be a part of these things… to be a part of these events and be in a field like this, that speaks to your university, to your program.”
That field, one that 25th-year Gonzaga head coach Mark Few confidently stated was the “greatest field that’s ever been assembled in one of these tournaments” Sunday morning, will pit All-American Zach Edey and #2 Purdue against Few’s nationally-ranked Zags in the first round after the conclusion of Tennessee-Syracuse. After the Boilermakers and Bulldogs finish up, #1 Kansas and Chaminade will duel before UCLA and #4 Marquette close the opening day of action.
Be sure to tune into Hawai’i Sports Radio Network for all of the Chaminade Silverswords men’s basketball games during the Allstate Maui Invitational, beginning on Monday, November 20 against #1 Kansas at 4pm HT/9pm ET on 95.1 FM, AM 760 and streaming on hawaiisportsradio.com.