First, any tournament that features a potential top-three preseason squad is worth watching. Last year, Arizona might have won the national crown had Brandon Ashley avoided a season-ending foot injury in early February. But now he’s back with an Arizona team that’s equally dangerous. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson are two of the best wings in America. Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski form a dangerous frontcourt. And T.J. McConnell is back to run the show.
But things won’t be easy in Maui. Marcus Foster leads a Kansas State team that should be in the top-25 conversation once the season begins. Jamie Dixon will lead a young Pitt squad that finished 11-7 in the ACC last season. The Panthers lost Lamar Patterson, so Cam Wright and others will take on bigger roles in 2014-15.
Steve Fisher has a strong recruiting class, Arizona transfer Angelo Chol, and senior Dwayne Polee II. The Aztecs are still dangerous. BYU’s Tyler Haws was one of America’s top scorers last season, but the Cougars lost standout Eric Mika to an LDS mission.
New Missouri coach Kim Anderson could have a rough debut with the piecemeal roster he’ll take into the season. And folks in West Lafayette are getting antsy after Purdue’s recent slide. A strong showing in Maui could give the Boilermakers some momentum, something they lacked throughout last season.
Chaminade, which defeated Texas two years ago in Maui, is always up for the spoiler role.
We could see Arizona-Kansas State and San Diego State-Pitt semifinals and an Arizona-SDSU finale. But there are a multitude of appealing possibilities beyond those.
You gotta like this field.
Why you’ll want to watch: You want to watch this because of the star power that’s packed into one tournament.
Arizona’s lineup just isn’t fair. Johnson is a freshman who is built like a pickup truck. He’s next to Hollis-Jefferson and Ashley and Tarczewski and McConnell. That’s a lot of juice for one team.
Then you have Foster. Not familiar with the name? Don’t worry. You’ll hear about him after he wins Big 12 player of the year honors and keeps the Wildcats in the battle for the conference title.
Fisher built SDSU on the backs of junior college kids and transfers. But his recruiting class of Malik Pope, Trey Kell and Zylan Cheatham is no joke and proof that the future is bright in San Diego. Plus, Chol has been a monster in practice. The Aztecs are excited about his potential.
A.J. Hammons is a young man with NBA potential, but his effort has been questioned throughout his entire career, as it doesn't always look like he wants to be out there. Guess what? It’s now or never for Hammons. Purdue needs him to bring it every night. A strong outing in Maui would really give him a much-needed confidence boost.
Haws gets buckets. He’ll be fun to watch. And Pitt’s hierarchy is still unknown. A handful of guys could snatch that leader role, and maybe one will emerge in Maui.
This is a good tourney with some intriguing storylines.