This year’s Maui Invitational begins today, with Michigan playing tonight (the listed game time is 11:30 EST, but the tip-off time is contingent on when the Notre Dame – Chaminade game ends, so it could be a little later). Once considered the standard for college basketball’s holiday tournaments, the Maui Invitational seems to have been surpassed in recent years.
The 2017 field is headlined by Wichita State; the Shockers have spent the last six seasons in the Kenpom Top 20, are a national title contender this year, and they’ll be playing in a new conference – the “American” – for the first time. Notre Dame is probably the second-best team, as the Irish retained their two most important players (both seniors) from a five-seed in the NCAA Tournament, one of whom is an All-American. Michigan made it to the Sweet 16 last, but is still adjusting to the aftermath of significant attrition.
Beyond those three, there are mostly mediocre teams: Marquette and VCU each reached the NCAA Tournament last March, though neither fall inside the Kenpom Top 50 for this season; LSU, VCU, and Cal are each breaking in new coaching staffs (and LSU actually hired head coach Will Wade away from VCU). Of course, D-II Chaminade will be a part of the field, as is tradition.
Michigan opens the tournament against LSU, and will face either Notre Dame (if the Wolverines win) or Chaminade (if the Wolverines lose) tomorrow, unless an unfathomable Chaminade-over-Notre Dame upset happens.
[After the JUMP, a look at the field, plus tonight's game info]
#42 Michigan (3-0) vs
#75 LSU (2-0)
Lahaina Civic Center
|WHEN||~11:30 pm ET, Wednesday|
Michigan -5 (KenPom)
Michigan -6 (Bovada)
Through two games, the Tigers the highest eFG% in the country and have averaged 102 points per game. Against Alcorn State, they put up 1.44 points per possession, and against Samford, they put up 1.50 – the former is one of the worst programs in the country, the latter is better than any team Michigan has faced thus far.
That’s encouraging given how poorly last season went. LSU’s offense was mediocre (80th in Adjusted Efficiency) and the defense was horrific (280th!). They started the season 8-2, but lost a remarkable 19 of their last 21 games and finished tied for last place in the SEC with a similarly awful Missouri squad. Their best player, Antonio Blakeney, left early for the NBA and was undrafted – he was signed to a two-way deal by the Chicago Bulls. Head coach Jonny Jones was a great recruiter and had actually taken the Tigers to the NCAA Tournament in his third season, but the next year (with future #1 overall pick Ben Simmons, an Australian who was clearly disinterested in college basketball) was a massive disappointment. The bottom fell out the next season, and there was no way Jones could survive a 10-21 campaign.
In steps Will Wade, a 34-year old climber who started his career as a student manager at Clemson. His first stop as an assistant was with Tommy Amaker at Harvard; he moved onto VCU as part of Shaka Smart’s staff for a few years (including the team that lost to Michigan in the 2013 NCAA Tournament); after a short stint as the head coach at UT-Chattanooga, the Rams brought him back as the head coach, where he only lasted two seasons. VCU wasn’t quite as fanatical in its full-court press as it was under Smart, but Wade did keep up the pressure. The Rams reached the NCAA Tournament in both of their years under Wade as a ten-seed. LSU gave him a raise of more than a million dollars, and he packed his bags for Baton Rouge to take on a daunting job at a football school in the SEC cellar.
There’s been a lot of roster turnover, but four of the top six players in terms of minutes played in 2017-18 are holdovers from last season.
- Skylar Mays (sophomore combo guard): high assist and turnover rates, was third-best in steal rate in SEC play, shot 33% from three-point range.
- Brandon Sampson (junior wing): was once just outside the Top 50 as a recruit, is very athletic, shot 59% on two-pointers, put up 20 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists in the win over Samford.
- Wayde Sims (sophomore wing): three / four tweener, shot 41% on threes in limited attempts, solid on the defensive glass, gets some blocks and steals.
- Duop Reath (senior post): former JUCO transfer put up an inefficient 12 points and 6 rebounds per game, good rim protector, bad free throw shooter, can be foul-prone.
Sampson is the best of those four, followed by Reath. Aaron Epps is a big man with starting experience who played well during the preseason but missed the opener due to injury and only saw ten minutes of action against Samford.
Several newcomers have played quite a bit. Wade has done well on the recruiting trail since being hired, and his biggest commitment came late in last year’s cycle, as Top 50 point guard Tremont Waters – a former Georgetown signee from Connecticut – became a Tiger. Waters is tiny, but he’s got game: he was the best player on the floor in LSU’s season-opener against Alcorn State, putting up 27 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, and 5 steals. He didn’t start in the Samford win because of an ankle injury, but still played 27 minutes. Zavier Simpson’s peskiness on the defensive end may be quite useful in the matchup against Waters at the point guard position.
Quite a few other offseason additions have been a part of the rotation. Grad transfer Jeremy Combs put up 10 points and 6 rebounds per game at North Texas in a season limited by injury; he’s more of a traditional four despite being fairly skinny. Fellow grad transfer Randy Onwuasor was an empty calorie scorer for an atrocious Southern Utah team last year, but the guard finished fifth nationally in points per game at 23.6. Four-star freshman combo guard Brandon Rachal stayed committed through the coaching change and his length on the perimeter should be a big asset defensively. JUCO guard Daryl Edwards is the best shooter on the team.
This seems to be a pretty good matchup for Michigan. LSU has been hot from behind the arc, which is a little worrisome, but a harsh regression to the mean – both in terms of Michigan’s three-point defense and LSU’s shooting – will happen sooner or later. For the first time in a while, the Wolverines will have excellent defenders to handle a high-major opponent’s two best players (with Simpson on Waters and Charles Matthews on Sampson). Michigan’s early-season struggles against zone aren’t likely to be a factor against a team that has played at least 90% of its possessions in man defense according to Synergy Sports. More than anything else though, LSU was awful last season – and a new coach and a ton of new players will have a hard time turning things around in one season, let alone in a few games. For what it’s worth, this is the toughest non-conference game on their schedule, and Kenpom gives Michigan a 67% chance of winning.
All-American Bonzie Colson
Longtime ND head coach Mike Brey’s teams are strikingly familiar to John Beilein’s Michigan squads in a couple meaningful ways. The strongest parallel is that the Irish typically have offenses that range from “really good” to “nationally elite” and defenses that range from “mediocre” to “abysmal.” Brey’s offenses also have the same strengths as Beilein’s, namely turnover avoidance and efficient shooting from inside and outside the three-point line. His defenses avoid fouling and can’t force turnovers to an even more extreme extent than Beilein’s defenses do. Brey also loves to keep his starters on the floor as much as he can (last season three players played at least 85% of Notre Dame’s minutes). If these two meet up in the second round of the Maui Invitational, it should be a fun contest between two extremely similar programs.
Two seasons ago, a Notre Dame team that was destined for the Elite 8 beat Michigan in the Round of 64. The Wolverines were excellent in the first half and led by 12 at the break, but they went cold in the second half. It was a tight contest down the stretch and ND put the game away with key baskets from VJ Beachem, a former Michigan target who led all scorers with 18 and didn’t miss a shot. Few contributors in that game remain for either team, though Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman put up 15 points and Moe Wagner was on the wrong end of a devastating and questionable blocking foul call late in the game (he had four fouls in eight minutes). Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson – then a sophomore – had 12 points off of the bench.
Colson’s now one of the best players in all of college basketball. Despite being about 6’5, he plays the four and the five, and gets away with it on the defensive end because of his freakishly long arms. His breakout junior season was remarkable: he averaged 18 points and 10 rebounds per game, posted an excellent 54/43/78 (2P/3P/FT%) shooting line, had the fifth-best offensive rating nationally among players with a usage rate of at least 24%, and was a strong shot-blocker. Colson is the AP preseason ACC Player of the Year, and needless to say, he’d be a very tough test for the Wolverines. He’s played most of his minutes this season alongside taller players, so Michigan may need to try to guard him with Matthews.
Two Notre Dame starters returned. Point guard Matt Farrell was Colson’s sidekick – he was second on the team with 14 points per game and finished seventh in assist rate during conference play last season. Farrell is a strong shooter from behind the arc (40% over his career on roughly half of his attempts), and he manages to get quite a few steals without fouling. The other starter who’s back is Rex Pflueger: he only played about half of Notre Dame’s available minutes last season and finished with far fewer shot attempts than the other key players. Pflueger has a generally unremarkable statistical profile – though he is efficient, like pretty much everyone else on the team – as he’s definitely more of a defensive specialist.
The rest of the rotation is decent, if unremarkable. Sophomore TJ Gibbs steps into a starting role as the off-guard; he played a lot as a reserve last season and had Notre Dame’s lowest individual eFG% number by a considerable margin (he’s been on fire early this season though). Lithuanian big man Martinas Geben was originally a starter last season before losing his spot to Pflueger. He only averaged about 3 points and 3 rebounds per game and has a classic big man profile: efficient, low usage, draws a lot of fouls and commits a lot of fouls, high turnover rate, good rebounder. Sixth man DJ Harvey is a Top 50 freshman from prep powerhouse DeMatha – he’s reputed to be a strong shooter and athlete on the wing. Sophomore John Mooney and junior Elijah Burns are in their first seasons of significant playing time and provide depth down low.
Future NFL tight end Shaquille Morris
Other Side of the Bracket
- Wichita State – Despite finishing their season with a loss, the Shockers were one of four teams to finish in the Top 15 nationally in Adjusted Offensive and Defensive Efficiency (they were a ten-seed, the other three were one- or two-seeds). Two of their best players were injured over the summer: leading scorer and defensive stalwart Markis McDuffie isn’t back yet, but insanely efficient point guard Landry Shamet is. Shaquille Morris checks in at about 280 pounds down low, and he’s an excellent rebounder, shot-blocker, and free throw shooter. Former Kansas Jayhawk and sharpshooting specialist Conner Frankamp is back as well. Wichita State currently ranks third nationally according to Kenpom, and they’re a trendy Final 4 pick. Michigan would probably have to upset Notre Dame to set up a matchup with Wichita State; if they do, the Shockers might be the best team they’ll face all season (including Michigan State).
- Marquette – The Golden Eagles made the NCAA Tournament last season with an elite-offense-bad-defense squad a year ago. Though they lost three key seniors, they still should have an impressive offense under Steve Wojciechowski. Few teams will have more potent offensive backcourts than Marquette – senior Andrew Rowsey and freshman Markus Howard each check in at under six feet tall, but they’re excellent scorers. Rowsey was the most efficient player in Big East play at a usage rate of 24.2, and Howard was the best three-point shooter in the country last season at 55% on 150 attempts. Both can distribute the ball as well. Marquette hosted Purdue as part of the Gavitt Games between the Big East and Big Ten, and the Boilermakers ate them alive en route to 1.23 points per possession. While Marquette won’t see a similarly-sized team in Maui, their defense is still very suspect and odds are that most of their games will be shootouts.
- VCU – Starting with their shocking run to the Final Four back in 2011, the Rams have been to seven straight NCAA Tournaments. Whether they can make it back to the Big Dance under first-year coach Mike Rhoades is an open question. Last season’s team was the worst of that seven-year stretch according to Kenpom, and this year’s team falls barely inside the Top 100 nationally as of now. They lost two key seniors as well, but they do return Jonathan Williams and De’Riante Jenkins in the backcourt, two starters from last season. Maine transfer wing Issac Vann has been the go-to guy thus far. They’ll press like they did under Shaka Smart (and play at a high tempo); their defensive turnover rate is really low right now because they played (and lost to) Virginia a couple days ago, a characteristically turnover-averse program. VCU has played North Florida as well, winning 95-85 at home.
- Cal – The lowest-ranked team other than Chaminade in the field (per Kenpom) faces a brutal matchup with Wichita State in the first round of the Maui Invitational – the Bears only have a 6% chance of winning. Michigan would have to lose to LSU to set up a potential matchup against Cal, though it would still be unlikely unless they sprung an upset over Marquette or VCU following their (almost guaranteed) loss to Wichita State. The Bears lost their season-opener to UC Riverside, one of the worst teams in the Big West. Junior guard Don Coleman scored at least 30 points twice in three games, and he’s in the Top 100 nationally in usage rate. Former Kentucky big man Marcus Lee (remember him?) also plays for Cal.