The eight-team field has been defined as unimpressive. There is no Duke, no Arizona, no Kansas, no Kentucky. But what this year's Maui Classic --
version No. 20 for those counting -- does again offer is opportunity for programs seeking admiration on a national level.
It's a pretty simple formula inside that hot, dusty 30-year old gymnasium: Play well and you get noticed. Just ask the hosts.
Prior to its upset of Villanova on Monday morning, the only other fact known about Chaminade was its victory against Ralph Sampson and Virginia in 1982?
Didn't think so.
"If you are successful or can play reasonably well in Maui, it always helps you in recruiting," said Santa Clara coach Dick Davey. "Name identity is an issue in recruiting. Let's face it -- being on television is also an issue.
"It has been a high for us when we played over there. And we'd like to have the same thing happen this time, but I think some other teams might
have something to say about that."
Others include San Diego State, another West Coast program that will spend Thanksgiving week in and around the Lahaina Civic Center. The Aztecs are
picked to finish in the lower tier of the Mountain West Conference, but are potentially much better with Missouri transfer Wesley Stokes at point guard
and one of the top freshmen out West in combo guard Brandon Heath.
Hawaii -- if you can believe it -- will make its first Maui appearance when it plays Santa Clara in a first-round game. For years, the Warriors competed
with the Maui event by hosting their own Rainbow Classic.
"The Maui is the most prestigious preseason tournament there is," said Aztecs coach Steve Fisher, whose team opens against Ohio State on Monday on
ESPN2. "We're going there expecting to win. Most people will say Ohio State has a better team. I don't know whether they do or not, but I do believe
we'll have a chance to win against anyone we play there.
"And if you get lucky and play well and win that first one, all three of your games will be on national television. It is a tournament with all kinds
of residual effects for your program."
Davey and Santa Clara knows this well.
The Broncos -- another lower-tier pick in what should be a Gonzaga-dominated West Coast Conference this season -- won
two Maui games in 1995, knocking off defending national champion UCLA and Michigan State. It helped, of course, that a lad named Steve Nash then
directed the Santa Clara attack.
There have been others. Chaminade's improbable win over Virginia led to the tournament's creation. A few years ago, Ball State earned national acclaim by beating
Kansas and UCLA before falling to Duke in the final.
"Maui gives our school and program instant recognition," said SDSU junior
forward Chris Walton, the last of Bill Walton's four sons. "It's not every
year we get to play in a tournament like this on ESPN. People are saying
it's a down field, maybe the worst field ever in Maui. But guys play
Division I basketball for a reason -- they're good.
"Look at what Yale did to Connecticut the other night, leading at halftime. Our expectations are to go there and win."
Translation: Villanova was, and Ohio State remains the favorite.
On Maui, that means nothing at all.
Lute Olson wants his ultra-athletic Arizona team to score more on the run this season, converting breaks or finding shots in early offense. The Wildcats, who open against Northern Arizona on Monday, are counting on freshman point guard Mustafa Shakur to create many of those opportunities.
"He will be a factor right away," Olson said. "But the way we play, we need some numbers out there. You can't play the pace we do and have the same
guys out there all the time."
One player who has impressed early is sophomore forward Andre Iguodala.
"If he shoots it like he did in our first exhibition (8-of-10), he'll be one of the best 6-foot-6, 6-foot-7 players in the country," Olson said. "It's unusual to have a guy that size who sees the court as well as he does. We had a 20-minute scrimmage the other day and he had 15 rebounds."
Around the West
Stanford is the team many feel will give Arizona the toughest challenge in pursuit of a conference title. To do so, the Cardinal needs three players
-- seniors Justin Davis and Matt Lottich and junior Josh Childress -- to
lead. The trio returns as Stanford's leading scorers.
"Justin is ready for a breakout year," said Montgomery. "He is a very good offensive player, hard to block off, and difficult to defend. Lottich is as
good a shooter as anybody in the league. Josh is ready to again be a big part of the team's success."
The other key: Starting point guard Chris Hernandez must remain healthy, a hurdle he has yet to clear in college.
One of the more intriguing transfers this season is point guard Shantay Legans, who left Cal and will play his final season at Fresno State.
He started 79 games in the Pac-10 over three years and adds immediate help to a backcourt that lost three key guards from last year's 20-win team.
"I'm excited about what he brings to our team,'' said second-year coach Ray Lopes. "He's a true floor general, an extension of the coach. His
leadership and basketball instincts and knowledge can only benefit us. We didn't have a true point guard like Shantay last year. Some guys had to play
out of position."
University of San Diego, the team that upset Gonzaga in last season's WCC tournament to reach the NCAAs, is already 0-3. Brad Holland's team
dropped games to Oakland, UC Irvine and Coppin State in the BCA Classic. In addition to losing impact players Jason Keep at center and Jason Blair
at forward from last year, the Toreros have seen Corey Belser (the only returning starter) lost for the season with a knee injury. It's the worst
start for USD since gaining Division I-A status in 1979-80.
Already, Andrew Bogut is making a name for himself at Utah. The 6-10 freshman center from Australia has averaged 17 points and 17 rebounds in two
preseason NIT victories.
Quote to Note
"I'm just thankful to be back in the game that I love. It's not so much a destination, but a journey. I missed the journey, even the hard parts."
-- First-year Washington State coach Dick Bennett.
Ed Graney of the San Diego Union-Tribune is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.