For decades, the Maui Invitational has been one of college basketball's premier early season tournaments. It is often a three day preview of the best college basketball has to offer. This year's bracket includes two current AP top 25 teams, North Carolina-16, Texas-19, and three of college basketball’s most winning programs-North Carolina, Indiana, and Texas. The bracket is rounded out by Stanford, Alabama, Providence, UNLV, and Davidson. The games will be played in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Asheville, North Carolina at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center. The stage is set, let’s take a look at the competing teams:
*The Tar Heels first opponent
*0-1 on the season-lost 78-91to Montana State
*Players to note-the Rebels are led by strong guard play from Bryce Hamilton, Nick Blake, and Caleb Grill
*Head Coach is former Tar Heel assistant Jerod Haase
*Yet to play in 2020
*The Cardinals are known for playing fundamentally sound basketball and always playing tough defense
*Players to note-returning post player Oscar da Silva and freshman Ziaire Williams-247Sports sixth rated recruit for the class of 2020.
*1-0 in 2020. The Longhorns beat Texas-Rio Grande Valley 91-55
*For whatever reason, Texas always plays the Tar Heels tough. The Tar Heels are just 1-7 vs the Longhorns during the Roy Williams era
*Players to note-returning guards Courtney Ramey and Matt Coleman, freshman Greg Brown. Brown is 247Sports ninth rated recruit for the 2020 class
*1-0 in 2020. The Crimson Tide beat Jacksonville State 81-57
*Second year head coach Nate Oats promised an up tempo offense and has delivered just that. In 2019-2020, the Crimson Tide ranked third in the nation in points and threes made per game.
*Players to note-the Crimson Tide return four guards who often play together; John Petty Jr., Herb Jones, Jaden Schackelford, and Jahvon Quinerly. It goes without saying, but these four are the DNA to the high scoring offense
*1-0 in 2020. The Hoosiers beat Tennessee Tech 89-59
*Indiana has a lot of young talent. Maui will be a place they may get their opportunity to shine
*Players to note-sophomore Trayce Jackson-Davis, junior Rob Phinisee, and four freshman in the top 150 for 247Sports; Khristian Lander, Jordan Geronimo, Anthony Leal, and Trey Galloway,
*1-0 in 2020. The Friars beat Fairfield 97-56
*Just 1-5 all time vs the Tar Heels
*The Friars are led by three upperclassmen; 6-10 senior center Nate Watson, and junior guards David Duke and AJ Reeves
*1-0 in 2020. The Wildcats beat High Point 82-73
*Although the Tar Heels usually come out on top, Davidson is another team who traditionally plays Carolina tough
*Players to note-as usual, Davidson has yet another guard heavy team; Carter Collins, Kallen Grady, and Lee Hyun-jung are all back and to no Carolina fans surprise, they all shoot the three at a high percentage
Items of note for Carolina at Maui
*Three games in three days is a lot in a normal year. Add Covid restrictions, limited practice time, and a young team. North Carolina’s depth can and needs to be a factor. The freshman will have the opportunity to play extended minutes, they need to capitalize.
*Generating offense-the Tar Heels have a variety of ways in which they can score effectively; getting out in transition, pounding the paint, and outside shooting. They need to find a way to be consistent and balanced with all three.
*Rebounding-Roy Williams preaches it all the time. The team who wins the boards typically wins the game. The Tar Heels will have a substantial size advantage over all opponents in the field. It will be important to use size, effort, and athleticism to win the paint, specifically the boards.
*Win the turnover battle-this is especially important with a young backcourt.
*Mental toughness-three games in three days is going to present some moments of adversity. It will be important to have player-led leadership to grind it out.
Dating back to 1984, the Tar Heels have been Maui champions four times-1999, 2004, 2008, and 2016. Past Maui tournament success has spelled season success for the Tar Heels. The last three times the Tar Heels won Maui, they were the last team standing on that Monday night in April. Carolina is my pick to win Maui, but that does not mean that right now, I am picking them as National Champions. Let’s use each game to learn our team identity; player’s to learn their roles and gain experience, find lineup continuity, and to grow as a team. The sooner roles are learned and the team meshes, the sooner we can consider March and April expectations.
The Tar Heels matchup vs UNLV is Monday, November 30th at 7pm eastern and televised on ESPN2. All Maui games will be televised on ESPN or ESPN2.