Announcement of 2016 Field a Reminder that Maui is Still King

Posted by Henry Bushnell on November 25th, 2014

December 23, 1982. It’s a date etched in college basketball folklore, and with good reason. You’ve probably heard the tale before, perhaps many times: the tale of big, bad Ralph Sampson towering above his opponents; the tale of the tiny gym, of the mysterious aura; the tale of mighty Virginia being confounded and eventually upset by plucky Chaminade, an embryonic NAIA squad in just its eighth season of competition.

A Game 32 Years Ago Set the Maui Invitational in Motion

A Game 32 Years Ago Set the Maui Invitational in Motion

In fact, every November, the Maui Invitational serves as a convenient reminder of that day nearly 32 years ago, because it was in the wake of Chaminade’s shocking win that the tournament was born. What began as a four-team event soon expanded to eight, and pretty soon, it was attracting the top teams from around the country. Michigan made its first trip in 1985, Kansas (along with Stanford, Villanova and Illinois) followed in 1987, UNLV came in 1988, North Carolina debuted in 1989, Duke visited in 1992, and Arizona in 1993. As big time programs flocked to Maui, it became the pinnacle of November college basketball, and built quite the reputation. For at least two decades, it was one of the kings of early season tournaments.

It wasn’t the undisputed king though. Alongside Maui had always been the Preseason NIT, now known as the NIT Season Tip-Off, and the Great Alaska Shootout, both of which also drew the bluebloods. Recently though, given the resounding success of Maui in particular, even more competition began to sprout up in the form of other holiday tournaments. Organizers realized that with school temporarily out of session for Thanksgiving break, teams would love to travel to desirable locations and test themselves against other top national contenders. In 1995, the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic was founded. Following the turn of the century, the CBE Classic (2001), Old Spice Classic (2006, now the Orlando Classic), and Legends Classic (2007), plus others, joined the fray, and suddenly, it was no longer Maui, NIT or bust. Elite programs had options aplenty, and it may have even seemed as if the exclusivity and uniqueness of Maui had been watered down.

During the past few season, there were even rumblings that Maui had been surpassed by some of these newer tournaments. In fact, the Maui fields of the past few years probably paled in comparison to some others. For example, this season, the average KenPom ranking for the seven Division I teams at Maui is 46.2. Meanwhile, the average for the top seven teams (excluding UAB) at the Battle 4 Atlantis, which exploded onto the scene in 2011, is 22.7 – less than half that of Maui. The average of the four teams at the Legends Classic is even better, 22.0. Maui has seemingly slipped a tad in recent years, and the trendy locations appeared to be gathering steam.

Maui's Tiny Gym Regularly Comes Up With Big Moments, Including Last Night's Double-Overtime Thriller Between SDSU and BYU

Maui’s Tiny Gym Regularly Comes Up With Big Moments, Including Last Night’s Double-Overtime Thriller Between SDSU and BYU

But Monday, on the first day of the storied tournament, the field for the 2016 Maui Invitational was announced, and it’s an impressive one: North Carolina, Wisconsin, UConn, Georgetown, Oklahoma State, Oregon, Tennessee, and of course, Chaminade. That comes on the back of last year’s announcement of the 2015 field, which includes Kansas, UCLA, Indiana and UNLV, among others. If there were any doubts about Maui retaining its perch as the top November tournament, they have been emphatically put to rest.

But even if the Bahamas or Brooklyn can match or even outshine Maui in terms of the caliber of teams in attendance, nothing will ever be able to replace Maui’s tradition. Nothing can replace the mystique of that day in 1982, of Chaminade’s upsets, of buzzer-beaters and overtime thrillers. Nowadays, the gym’s walls are lined with memories of legends of years past, a reminder of that tradition and mystique. But as San Diego State and BYU capped 2014’s opening night with a pulsating double-overtime battle, it was as clear as ever that that reminder isn’t a nostalgic one. Rather, it’s a reminder that Maui was, is, and will continue to be king.

Henry Bushnell (39 Posts)

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