Feast Week Previews: Maui, Legends, CBE & Cancun Tourneys

Posted by Andrew Gripshover on November 23rd, 2015

There are talented tournament fields everywhere this Feast Week. The Gulf Coast Showcase has a relatively strong mid-major field headlined by Murray State, Duquesne (which absolutely BLASTED Penn State on Friday) and Texas Southern. Four capable teams — Clemson, UMass (already a winner over Harvard), Creighton and Rutgers — will tussle in another four-team field in Vegas. Looking further ahead, Atlantis tips off on Wednesday before a handful of other events kick off on Thanksgiving Day and beyond. As we did with Puerto Rico and Charleston last week, here’s a look at the event favorite, a dark horse, and the teams who have the most on the line this week. We’ll also highlight a player and a storyline to watch.

Maui Invitational

Despite some early season struggles, Bill Self and Kansas are still the clear favorite in Maui. (Getty)

Despite some early struggles, Bill Self and Kansas are still the clear favorite in Maui. (Getty)

  • Favorite: Kansas. Even with no Cheick Diallo or Brannen Greene for the week and the second half collapse to Michigan State in Chicago notwithstanding, the Jayhawks are still the clear favorite in Maui as the only top 10 team in this tournament. Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor are seniors. Frank Mason and Wayne Selden are juniors. This is an experienced team that might be going on its last ride together. As usual, there’s chatter about this being the year the Big 12 title streak is broken. Winning the Maui title would probably pump the brakes on that notion, at least for the time being.
  • Darkhorse: UCLA. In terms of talent and potential, the Bruins are a clear sleeper. Aaron Holiday, Bryce Alford, Tony Parker  you could easily see a team with talented pieces like these upsetting a still-not-quite-right Kansas in the semifinal and then taking out Indiana or Vanderbilt the next night. Of course, they’re flaky enough that they could brick the last Maui quarter to UNLV, especially after that whole Monmouth thing.

  • Most on the line: Indiana, Vanderbilt, UNLV. The Bruins probably belong here as well, and for many of the same reasons as the Hoosiers and Vandy. Both have enough talent and potential to make a deep run in Maui that would significantly boost their resumes in March. Both teams are also questionable enough that they could end up fighting for their bubble lives if everything goes wrong. As for the Rebels, this is a chance to make a national statement beyond a Derrick Jones dunk. At the very least, beating UCLA and getting a game against Kansas would be potentially huge, especially considering the alternative: a loss and a no-win date with Chaminade.
Big man Thomas Bryant is the player to watch in Hawaii. (USA TODAY Sports)

Big man Thomas Bryant is the player to watch in Hawaii. (USA TODAY Sports)

  • Storyline: Is Indiana a hype beast or has it actually solved its flaws? The Hoosiers blew away Maryland 89-70 last January 22, scorching the nets from three-point range (10-of-20) to improve to 15-4 overall and 5-1 in Big Ten play. Indiana then proceeded to lose 10 of its final 15 games. Much ink was spilled about the problems that caused the downfall, while significant hype has been attached to this year’s group with even more talent now on the roster. Can they defend better? Can they find an interior force to balance all the perimeter weapons?
  • Player to Watch: Thomas Bryant, C, Indiana. This kid may be the answer to some of those questions above. One of the most hyped Hoosiers’ recruits of the Tom Crean era, Bryant had 17 points, seven rebounds and four blocks in the Gavitt Tipoff blowout win over Creighton. His 6’10” inch frame adds real size to a lineup that had no starter taller than 6’7″ last season. Could Bryant even prove capable enough to run the offense through him instead of senior leader Yogi Ferrell?

CBE Classic

  • Favorite: North Carolina. No, the sky’s not falling. As you’ve probably heard by now, the explicit reason for playing that road game backfired immensely when Marcus Paige got hurt and a fearless Northern Iowa team got hot on its home floor. They’re still far and away the best of the four teams in this event and shouldn’t have too much trouble picking up two more wins.
  • Darkhorse: Northwestern. The Wildcats might be the second best team in Kansas City. You probably don’t need to hear what the deal is with Northwestern, but just in case you somehow missed it: They’ve never made an NCAA tournament. Will this be the year? Beating the Heels would certainly be a big help. Coming back at home to beat Columbia in overtime may seem like “same old mediocre Northwestern” but that may be a better win than it’ll get credit for being.
Could Alex Olah and Northwestern come back to Chicago with a signature tournament victory? (AP)

Could Alex Olah and Northwestern come back to Chicago with a signature tournament victory? (AP)

  • Most on the line: Kansas State, Missouri. Bruce Weber‘s Wildcats were reasonably close to mounting a bubble challenge thanks to a shockingly strong Big 12 campaign a year ago, but non-conference home losses to Texas Southern and Georgia ultimately torpedoed their resume. Kim Anderson‘s Tigers weren’t anywhere neat the bubble last March, but there’s a lot of space to move up in the SEC. They’ll clash in an old Big 12 North battle on what should be a truly neutral court for what will likely be the right to play UNC the next night.
  • Storyline: Can the Tar Heels bounce back? Maryland comes calling for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge when the calendar turns to December, and while the Terps have their own problems at the moment (as we’re about to get to), the Heels need to rebound quickly from losing in Cedar Falls. More importantly, they need to continue to figure out how to play without Paige, as he will again miss this week and potentially that date with Maryland, as well.
  • Player to Watch: Alex Olah, C, Northwestern. Listed at 7’0″ and 275 pounds, the senior from Romania is one of the most unique stories in college basketball this season. He averaged 12 points and seven rebounds along with nearly two blocks per game last season. To compete in a Big Ten loaded with talented big men, Chris Collins will need Olah to figure prominently throughout the year.

Cancun Challenge

  • Favorite: Maryland. The Terps are in a bracket with Illinois State, Rhode Island (who is without E.C. Matthews for the season) and TCU. This particular holiday tournament trip was booked long before Mark Turgeon knew how good his team might be. It’s possible that they will leave without a top 100 RPI win from either the Redbirds or the Rams/Frogs winner.
Mark Turgeon still has a kink or two to work out before conference play. (Baltimore Sun)

Mark Turgeon still has a kink or two to work out before conference play. (Baltimore Sun)

  • Darkhorse: Rhode Island. The Atlantic 10 is having an incredible start to the season thus far — Dayton over Alabama; GW over Virginia; George Mason in Charleston; the previously mentioned UMass and Duquesne wins — and the Rams were most pundits’ second choice behind the Flyers. E.C. Matthews’ injury is devastating, but Dan Hurley can still coach and the Rams will still defend well. They are the trickiest potential matchup for Maryland.
  • Storyline: What’s wrong with Maryland and will they make it right? Is Melo Trimble hurting? Are they just using him less and saving him for the end of games? Can they go big and not be exploited by opponents’ smaller lineups (see: Georgetown, Rider)? It’s clear the chemistry’s isn’t yet perfect in College Park and there are still more questions here than answers. Nobody is doubting the talent, however: There’s a lot of that.
  • Player to Watch: Diamond Stone, C, Maryland. Stone is Exhibit A in regards to the talent level in College Park. He has looked like a lottery pick in flashes —  like when he was almost single-handedly bringing his team back from a 14-point deficit in the second half at home against Rider — but Mark Turgeon would love to see him put it all together every time out. Games on back-to-back days will help test a big concern about Stone, his conditioning.

Legends Classic

  • Favorite: LSU. This feels like a weird thing to write, but of the three teams in Brooklyn which aren’t LSU, one lost at home to Sacramento State, another lost at home to William & Mary and the last one almost dropped a home game to IUPUI (needing overtime) before actually losing by 28 at home to Iowa. The Tigers also have this one kid. More on him in a minute.
This guy has been incredible so far. (vavel.com)

Ben Simmons has been incredible so far. (vavel.com)

  • Darkhorse: NC State. The homes loss to William and Mary killed off some of the preseason enthusiasm, but this is still a talented and capable team. The Wolfpack are Cat Barber‘s  squad to run now, while Maverick Rowan is their talented freshman du jour.
  • Storyline/Player To Watch: Ben Simmons, F, LSU. He IS the storyline of this tournament. Period. In fact, he’s one of the top storylines of the young season thus far. The point forward is dominating college basketball, averaging 18.7 points, 12.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game in what will assuredly be a one-season college career. He’s also shooting 63 percent from the floor and has grabbed six steals and four blocks. He has looked like the number one pick in the NBA Draft; we’ll see if that continues in the Barclays Center, his potential home after this season.
Andrew Gripshover (15 Posts)

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