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August 15, 2010

Who has the most to gain and lose in Maui?

At the College Basketball Roundtable each week, we ask each member of the coverage staff for his opinion about a topic in the sport. We had two questions this week, one Saturday and one today.

TODAY'S QUESTION: The Maui Invitational, from Nov. 22-24, has a loaded field (Connecticut, Kentucky, Michigan State, Oklahoma, Virginia, Washington and Wichita State along with host Chaminade). Which team has the most to gain -- and the most to lose?

David Fox's answer:
The Huskies are my answer for both. Washington has the most to gain with a potential second-round matchup with Kentucky. The Huskies are an experienced team that rallied to a 10-2 finish last season. Facing another freshman-laden Kentucky team could give the Huskies a confidence boost, especially if they can beat up on Terrence Jones, who spurned Washington in the final days of recruiting. Connecticut certainly has the most to lose. After missing the tournament and dealing with an NCAA investigation, the Huskies aren't guaranteed to win their first game against Wichita State, a contender in the Missouri Valley. If UConn gets past the Shockers, Michigan State, weakened by the departure of Chris Allen, is the likely second-round opponent.

Mike Huguenin's answer:
I think Wichita State has the most to gain. The Shockers should go into the season as the Missouri Valley favorite, and they can greatly strengthen their case for an at-large bid -- should they need one -- with a couple of high-profile victories in Hawaii. An MVC team doesn't want to have to rely on the kindness of strangers to get into the NCAA field; some key non-conference victories makes it easier on the committee to select a MVC team as an at-large. I think Connecticut might be the team with the most to lose. Michigan State, even if it plays poorly in this tourney, is going to be in the Big Ten title hunt all season. The Spartans are as close to an NCAA lock as there could be before the season starts. As happened last season, Kentucky is counting on freshmen to produce immediately, and while those freshmen may -- may -- take a few games to get acclimated, UK is another NCAA lock. I think UConn is a mystery team, and if the Huskies falter in this tourney, I think it bodes ill. In other words, if UK and Michigan State struggle in Hawaii, it will not matter in the long run. But if UConn struggles, I think it sets the Huskies up for a tough season.

Jason King's answer:
Kentucky will be the team in the Maui Invitational with the most to gain -- mainly because the Wildcats could be starting as many as five freshmen. Early season tournaments like this are great for young teams that need to develop cohesion before the start of the conference season. Kentucky, ironically, was in this same position last year when John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Co. went to Cancun and pulled off a narrow win against Stanford. That victory proved to be a springboard for the rest of the Wildcats' season. Maybe something similar will happen in Maui. Connecticut, meanwhile, has a lot to lose. There are already questions surrounding Jim Calhoun's squad following the departures of Stanley Robinson, Jerome Dyson and Gavin Edwards. Going to Maui and getting worked over by Michigan State, Washington and Kentucky could set a negative tone for the season.

Steve Megargee's answer:
I believe Wichita State and Washington have the most to gain. A couple of wins over big-name programs from a major conference could help a mid-major program such as Wichita State boost its NCAA tournament resume long before it enters conference play. Washington would love to outperform Kentucky in this tournament after losing former commitments Terrence Jones and Enes Kanter to the Wildcats. The programs with the most to lose are Connecticut and Oklahoma, though you also could argue they have plenty to gain. Both teams are coming off tremendously disappointing seasons. A solid performance in Maui would show that their 2009-10 struggles were nothing but a fluke. But if UConn and Oklahoma struggle in Maui, it could continue their recent wave of backward momentum.



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