The 2006 Maui Invitational is already underway, so what better time to preview it, right? For a PDF bracket, click here.
Oklahoma–If this Oklahoma team plays anything like their virgin head Coach Jeff Capel, they will be whiny, and underachieving. The former Dukie has his work cut out for him after Kelvin Sampson took his heralded recruits and over-solicitous methods elsewhere. The Sooners, on paper anyway, don’t appear to be much of a threat here.
Memphis–Yes, Memphis is currently caught-up in a nasty pay-for-play scandal, and no, this doesn’t surprise anyone. This year’s squad is a mere skeleton of last season’s elite 8 group, after the departure of forwards Shawne Williams and Rodney Carney to the NBA and guard Darius Washington to the NBDL or something.Memphis is banking on that whole “addition by subtraction” trend to carry them through the season. There is still a myriad of athletes on the roster, and Memphis has looked dandy in their tune-ups. This is a team that I think could win the whole thing, or lose in the first round. We’ll see.
DePaul–Scoring 39 points in a season opening loss to Northwestern isn’t going to do much for pre-Maui hype, but DePaul is by no means a pushover. They return 4 starters from last season, lead by big man Sammy Mejia. While DePaul doesn’t appear to be a legitimate threat to win the tournament, they have enough talent to pounce on any team who fails to respect their presence.
Kentucky–While the analysts are hardly in love with Tubby’s 2006 batch, UK fans know what this team is capable of. The only problem is, a lot of things have to go right for this team to be a legit contender. They also put a lot of weight on their three tough-nosed freshmen, which can be quite prickly in the beginnings of a season. Still, if UK’s guards get hot, and Randolph Morris keeps Sheray and Woo on the bench, look out.
Purdue–Like Oklahoma, Purdue limps in to Maui with a new head coach in Matt Painter. No, Painter does not look like a British Bull-Dog with a bed-headed comb-over, but Gene Keady has been prepping him for this job for years. The Boilermakers are excited about the return of Carl Landry from knee surgery, and are hopeful he can mirror the 18ppg player he was as a Soph. before his injury. Still, this team is a couple of years away from the NCAA tourney, and shouldn’t pose much of a threat to the top 3.
Georgia Tech–The Ramblin’ Wreck may be the most talented team in this field, however, they, like Kentucky and Mark Foley, are investing a lot of stock in their younggins. Starting 3 freshmen, Tech may not hit their stride until mid-season, but Thad Young and company have enough raw talent to win the tournament.
UCLA–Defensive guru Ben Howland lost the majority of his Final Four talent, but still has plenty to work with this year. The alliterate Aaron Afflalo is one of the best guards in the nation, and underrated but over-named forward Luc Mabah a Moute is a rising star. If new point guard Darren Collison can be half as productive as Jordan Farmar, UCLA will be very tough to beat.
Chaminade–Yeah, um, always a lock to be the most tanned, and least talented squad in the tournament. But, thanks for having us.