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Monday, November 19, 2012
Maui Invitational primer

By Robbi Pickeral

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the game that tiny Chaminade (then an NAIA school) upset Ralph Sampson’s top-ranked Virginia team on Dec. 23, 1982 -- leading to the creation of the Maui Classic (now EA Sports Maui Invitational). Because there are plenty of teams in the field with plenty of question marks and plenty to prove, there may be plenty of room for an upset or two this season.

The basics: Nov. 19-21 at Lahaina Civic Center in Maui, Hawaii

The set matchups: Monday -- Butler vs. Marquette, 3:30 p.m. ET; Mississippi State vs. UNC, 6 p.m.; Texas vs. Chaminade, 9:30 p.m.; USC vs. Illinois, midnight. (Consolation games and semifinals on Tuesday; consolation games and championship game Wednesday.)

The favorite: North Carolina. Although the 11th-ranked Tar Heels are still getting their bearings after losing four starters from last season’s Elite Eight team, they’ve got some talented pieces to meld together, beginning with sophomore forward James Michael McAdoo and junior wing Reggie Bullock. This three-day tournament will be an important test, though, for UNC’s ballhandling (freshman Marcus Paige is the starter), scoring (it has struggled in stretches) and confidence. If any falter, so could the Heels.

FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH

Javan Felix, Texas -- With Myck Kabongo sidelined (see below), the point guard is one of three freshmen to start for the Longhorns. He’s struggled with his shooting over two games (5-for-18), but even more worrisome is that he’s struggled to hold on to the ball. He recorded 11 turnovers to go with 10 assists in wins over Coppin State and Fresno State, and he’ll need to be more efficient this week.

Trent Lockett, Marquette -- The former Arizona State forward transferred to be closer to his ill mother and adds a scoring threat to a team that lost last season’s leading scorers, Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder. After averaging 13 points and 5.8 rebounds for the Sun Devils last season, he’s averaged 7.5 points and 4.5 rebounds this season.

James Michael McAdoo
James Michael McAdoo has been the leading scorer and rebounder for the Tar Heels in each of their games so far.
James Michael McAdoo, UNC -- Everyone wondered whether the sophomore could consistently pick up where he left off in March -- and he has. The forward has been both confident and focused, and is leading the Tar Heels with 21.3 points and 11 rebounds per game over their first three wins. With his team’s inexperience in the post, he’ll need to continue to come up big for UNC to be successful.

Omar Oraby, USC -- The 7-foot-2, 260-pound transfer from Rice was granted an NCAA hardship waiver to play this season just before the regular-season opener, and he has taken advantage of the opportunity. He averaged 10.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks off the bench in the Trojans’ two wins and should be a physical post challenge for foes in this tournament.

D.J. Richardson, Illinois -- The senior guard capped a 16-point rally with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in overtime to top Hawaii 78-77 in the wee hours of Saturday morning. You might not have seen the play, considering the late timing. But the team’s leading rebounder (5.7 per game) and third-leading scorer (11.0) needs to keep coming up big for the Illini to stay in the winner’s bracket.

FIVE BIG QUESTIONS

Will Myck Kabongo do anything more than watch? Texas’ sophomore point guard was allowed to travel with the team to Hawaii, but he has not been cleared to play as the NCAA continues to investigate him for possibly receiving impermissible benefits during the offseason. His status could be a difference-maker in this tournament.

Will Butler start connecting from the outside? Arkansas transfer Rotnei Clarke and freshman Kellen Dunham were supposed to help fix Butler’s outside shooting woes from a year ago, when the Bulldogs shot worse than 30 percent from beyond the 3-point arc. But the duo are a combined 10-for-28 in two games (including 2-for-10 in a 15-point loss to Xavier) on 3-pointers, and the Bulldogs are shooting only 31 percent from long distance.

Can Mississippi State stay healthy? It needs to, because the Bulldogs have only six healthy scholarship players with which to play three games in three days. Junior guard Jalen Steele, who recorded 16 points in MSU’s season-opening loss, broke his wrist in the team’s win over Florida Atlantic. The Bulldogs also suspended forward Colin Borchert last week for violating team rules, and freshmen Jacoby Davis and DeAndre Applewhite are also out for the season with knee injuries.

Can UNC keep its shooting sharp? The Tar Heels, who need outside shooting to be a strength, finally started hitting from the outside during Friday night’s win at Long Beach State, making 10 of 27 3-pointers, including six during a pivotal 23-7 second-half run. That was after beginning the season by making only a combined 7 of 27 3-point shots in their first two games. Wings Reggie Bullock, P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald need to keep connecting.

Will Chaminade pull another upset? Probably not. But on the 30th anniversary, it’s fun to wonder whether the now-Division II school could do it again ....

THE PICKS

Opening games: Marquette over Butler, UNC over Mississippi State, Texas over Chaminade, Illinois over USC
Semifinals: UNC over Marquette, Texas over Illinois
Championship game: UNC over Texas