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2014 Maui Invitational: Preview and Predictions

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

Winning in the Maui Invitational is generally a sign of good things to come.

The Maui Invitational was a kingmaker three times between 2005-11 as the eventual national champion also won in Maui. Last year’s winner, Syracuse, won Maui on the way to 25 consecutive wins to start the season.

National championship contender Arizona may be poised to make a similar run, using Maui as a springboard. At the very least, a team could emerge from Maui as arguably the top team in the West this season with the Pac-12 favorite (Arizona), Mountain West favorite (San Diego State) and No. 2 team in the West Coast Conference (BYU) all making appearances.

Monday’s First Round Games

All Times Eastern

Purdue vs. Kansas State (2:30 p.m., ESPN2)

Missouri vs. Arizona (5 p.m., ESPN2)

Pittsburgh vs. Chaminade (9 p.m., ESPNU)

BYU vs. San Diego State (11:30 p.m., ESPN2)

Championship Game: Wednesday, 10 p.m., ESPN

Best potential game: Arizona vs. San Diego State in the final

Arguably the top two teams out West could meet in the Maui Invitational championship game. San Diego State continues to rebuild year after year under Steve Fisher with Dwayne Polee, J.J. O’Brien and Winston Shepard growing into lead roles this season. Arizona has plenty of veterans, too, and a team that should contend for the Final Four.

Player to watch: Tyler Haws, BYU

Haws is the second-leading scorer returning in 2014-15 after averaging 23.2 points per game last season. He had his chances on the big stage early last season, scoring 31 points against Stanford, 20 against Iowa State, 25 against Texas and 17 against Wichita State.

Freshman to watch: Stanley Johnson, Arizona

Another season and another star freshman at Arizona. The 6-foot-7 shooting guard Johnson steps into Aaron Gordon’s shoes with the Wildcats, but where Gordon was a defensive presence, Johnson is a diverse scoring threat. Arizona lacked an offensive lynchpin last season. That may change with Johnson.

Breakout player: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona

Here’s an easy way to get noticed on a star-studded team: The sophomore Hollis-Jefferson dunked on UC Irvine’s Mamsdou N’Diaye, who is college basketball’s tallest player this season at 7-foot-6. Hollis-Jefferson is averaging 16 points per game this season after averaging 9.1 a year ago.

Storylines to watch:

Arizona’s coronation

We’ve seen what teams like Duke, Kentucky and Wisconsin can do against solid competition so far this season. This field won’t give Arizona a top-10 win — Wisconsin and North Carolina, for example, are playing in the Battle 4 Atlantis — but Arizona can start racking up wins against NCAA contenders Kansas State, San Diego State or Pittsburgh.

San Diego State’s defense vs. BYU’s Tyler Haws

The competition hasn’t been great, but San Diego State has been stifling on the defensive end this season so far. The Aztecs have allowed 44.7 points per game and 17.6 percent shooting from 3-point range. Steve Fisher has had a top-10 defensive team in two of the last three seasons, but BYU and Haws will be San Diego State’s first true test this season.

Signs of life for Pittsburgh and Kansas State

The long trip to Hawaii is not off to a great start for Pittsburgh. The Panthers lost 74-70 to Hawaii on Friday, only a week after announcing forward Durand Johnson would be suspended for the season. Johnson suffered a torn ACL last season but averaged 8.8 points in 19.8 minutes per game through the first 16 games. Kansas State is faring better but not by much. The Wildcats lost 69-60 at Long Beach State on Friday before heading to Maui. These are teams with NCAA Tournament potential that have already picked up bad losses before Thanksgiving.

Athlon Staff Predictions

 

David Fox

Braden Gall

Mitch Light

Prediction

Arizona over San Diego State

Arizona over San Diego State

Arizona over San Diego State

Player to Watch

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona

Stanley Johnson, Arizona

Stanley Johnson, Arizona