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PREVIEW: Jayhawks head to the islands for 2019 Maui Invitational

The Kansas Jayhawks (3-1) are getting a reprieve from the winter weather back home in Lawrence, heading west for this year’s Maui Invitational. It’s KU’s first appearance at the Lahaina Civic Center since 2015, when the Jayhawks won the whole thing.

This year’s Feast Week event on the islands features an intriguing field, replete with national championship contenders, top recruits, tournament hopefuls and plenty of Tom Crean memes. KU will open things up on Monday night against Chaminade, and along with a preview for that contest we’ll take a look at the other teams out in Maui and how they could stack up with the Jayhawks should they meet.

Where: Lahaina Civic Center, Lahaina, Hawaii

When: Nov. 25-27 (KU opens vs. Chaminade Nov. 25, 8:00 p.m.)

Kansas Jayhawks

The Jayhawks have rattled off three wins in the row and are still ranked fourth in the latest AP top-25 poll. One of the biggest strengths for Kansas so far has been its depth, specifically the fact that any number of players can step up and play a major role in any given game. For example, it was junior forward Silvio de Sousa who provided important minutes and points versus East Tennessee State, while three bench players scored in double figures against Monmouth and freshman guard Tristan Enaruna had a key nine points against UNC Greensboro. Those efforts have helped make up for slow starts from a couple players, which includes sophomore guard Ochai Agbaji. The Kansas City, Missouri native is averaging just nine points per game on under 37% shooting through four games.

Most of the stalwarts for the Jayhawks are doing what they’ve been expected to do, however. Sophomore guard Devon Dotson has settled in after a shaky season opener against Duke, leading KU in scoring at 18.8 points per game. Senior center Udoka Azubuike is averaging 12.8 points and 8.3 rebounds per game, which included a dominant 21 and seven effort against ETSU. And maybe the most important development among those who see the floor the most is junior guard Marcus Garrett, who continues to play solid defense and is contributing more on offense early this season. He’s averaging 9.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and four assists per game, all while shooting better than 45% from the field.

Jayhawk to watch in Maui

Agbaji. When the games get tougher it’s imperative that Kansas has a reliable second scoring option on offense. Agbaji worked on his shooting stroke all offseason and he put up a pair of impressive performances during the exhibition slate. It’s been a cold start to the regular season, but his athleticism and the spacing KU can create with four-guard lineups should give him a chance to break out soon. This week is a golden opportunity for one of the Jayhawks’ most important players to get rolling.

Michigan State Spartans

This is the matchup that everyone is hoping we get in the Maui Invitational final. Michigan State is third in the AP poll and, like Kansas, is 3-1 on the year with its lone loss coming in the Champions Classic. KenPom and ESPN’s Basketball Power Index also have the Spartans as the top team in the country entering Feast Week. Along wtih all of that, MSU already has one of the best wins in the country this season, beating 12th-ranked Seton Hall on the road two games back. Senior guard Cassius Winston is a national player of the year candidate and has been excellent so far this year in the face of personal tragedy. His 17.5 points and seven assists per game both pace the Spartans.

Spartan to watch in Maui

Junior forward Xavier Tillman. Michigan State needs a secondary scoring option and Tillman has been that so far this year. With Joshua Langford out long term someone has to step up and help Winston run things. Tillman is a frontcourt player but can be relied on to score effectively, not to mention he’s the Spartans’ best rebounder. He’ll be particularly intriguing to watch against the KU bigs should we get the highly anticipated matchup between the Jayhawks and Spartans.

UCLA Bruins

New coach Mick Cronin hasn’t gotten off to a great start in Westwood. Despite being 4-1 the Bruins are 134th in BPI, and that loss was not a good one, falling to Hofstra last time out.

UCLA also owns a four-point home win over Long Beach State, which is ranked 287th by KenPom and 302nd by BPI. We’ll leave it at this for UCLA: ESPN’s Myron Metcalf, in his Feast Week preview, had nothing better to say about the Bruins other than they still have some recruits that Steve Alford brought in, and not a single player was voted a preseason first-team, second-team or honorable mention selection in the Pac-12.

Bruin to watch in Maui

Freshman guard Tyger Campbell. Along with an impressive hairstyle, Campbell is likely the future for UCLA. The former four-star recruit is leading the bruins in assists so far this season at five per game while also contributing 8.2 points per contest. He went scoreless in 28 minutes versus Hofstra, but UCLA will need him to play well against tough competition this week. His scoring may not be pivotal, but someone needs to get the ball to better scorers like sophomore forward Jalen Hill and junior guard Chris Smith.

Georgia Bulldogs

It’s easy to mock Tom Crean for numerous reasons, but the man can coach and he showed again this year that he can also recruit. The Bulldogs are 4-0 through the early part of the season thanks in large part to freshman sensation Anthony Edwards, the second-ranked player in the class of 2019 per 247Sports. It hasn’t been all perfect to get to this perfect record, considering Georgia struggled against Georgia Tech and only won by nine over The Citadel, which is ranked 311th by KenPom. Still, Crean has a talented group that is going to contend for an NCAA tournament berth.

Bulldog to watch in Maui

Edwards. Unfortunately for Jayhawks fans the only way Kansas will match up with him is if the Bulldogs get past Michigan State (and Dayton, for the matter), which is unlikely. Edwards is a must-watch player regardless, as he’s putting up 19.2 points per game through four contests, and is making his presence felt defensively as well, with nearly three steals per game. Get to a TV to watch Anthony Edwards in action.

Virginia Tech Hokies

Last season was a great one for the Hokies, but unfortunately VT lost its best player to a graduate transfer and not expected to have a good 2019-20 campaign, as it was picked to finish 14th out of 15 in the ACC. Even so, it’s been a good start to the year for KenPom’s No. 41 team, which is 5-0 heading into its Maui opener against Michigan State. This isn’t a team that runs much, in fact it’s 315th in the country in KenPom’s adjusted tempo stat. That didn’t stop the Hokies from beating down a bad Delaware State team in their last game, though, or from averaging a 24.8-point margin of victory across their five games (against admittedly weak competition).

Hokie to watch in Maui

Freshman guard Landers Nolley II. It’s not just because he’s leading Virginia Tech in scoring or because his name is incredible, but Nolley is putting up sensational numbers to start his career. He’s shooting 50% from the floor and 45.9% from three-point range even with an 0-5 effort from deep against Coppin State. Add on his nearly five rebounds two assists and steal per game and you have one of the ACC’s most exciting under-the-radar players.

Dayton Flyers

The Dayton offense has been high flying to start this year, averaging 89.7 points per game in their three wins. Expectations are high as well for Dayton this year, which was picked to finish third in the Atlantic 10 and even received a first-place vote, plus it’s currently the highest ranked A10 team in KenPom (which also has the Flyers as a top 25 offense in the country currently). The Flyers are a veteran team with eight upperclassmen on the roster, but the best Flyer of them all is just a redshirt sophomore. Forward Obui Toppin is currently leading the Flyers in scoring with 23.7 points per game and was a preseason first-team all-conference selection.

Flyer to watch in Maui

Junior guard Jalen Crutcher. One of the veteran leaders for the Flyers, Crutcher was a second-team All-A10 preseason selection and has done an effective job running the point this year, leading Dayton in assists at 6.7 per game. He’s not an elite scorer but has the tools to facilitate and make his teammates better.

BYU Cougars

BYU, picked to finish third in the WCC behind Gonzaga and St. Mary’s, has one of the best wins of anyone in the Maui Invitational field so far this season after beating Houston on the road with a buzzer beater back on Nov. 15. The Cougars also have a pair of tough losses, however, falling at home to San Diego State and on the road to Boise State. This season BYU’s been about even in terms of points scored and allowed, averaging 71 points per game while allowing 68 per contest. KenPom ranks the Cougars’ offense ahead of their defense, though, at 62 and 96, respectively, as of No. 25.

Cougar to watch in Maui

Senior guard T.J. Haws. He’s the one who hit the buzzer beater against Houston, he’s second in scoring for BYU at 12 points per game and was a preseason All-WCC selection. He provides a strong second scoring option next to leading scorer senior guard Jake Toolson and is a decent facilitator, averaging 3.6 assists per game. With defenses keying in on Toolson, Haws has a chance to step up and make a name for himself in Maui.

Chaminade Silverswords

Chaminade returns to the Maui Invitational this year after being left out of the festivities last season (despite still being the host university). Don’t forget that just two years ago the Silverswords picked up a blowout win over Cal in this tournament, and back in 2013 they beat Oklahoma.

Chaminade was picked to finish third in the PacWest this season and received one first-place vote, and its off to a hot start this season at 2-0 with two wins away from home. This Monday’s game will be the fourth meeting ever between Chaminade and Kansas; KU is 3-0 in those games.

Silversword to watch in Maui

Senior guard Tyler Cartaino. The senior leader for the Silverswords was a preseason all-league pick and is the reigning PacWest Player of the Week. He poured in 20 points in Chaminade’s most recent win over Alaska Anchorage after dropping 21 against Alaska Fairbanks. He’s going to be the focal point for Kansas on Monday night, because he’s probably the only chance Chaminade has of keeping the game competitive at any point.

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