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UConn Men’s Basketball Schedule Preview: Maui Invitational Field

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We preview the most likely opponents for the Huskies in their early-season tournament.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-2nd Round-Oregon vs Oklahoma State Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

The Maui Invitational is not for another two weeks—UConn’s first-round game is scheduled for Monday, November 21st at 9:00 PM versus Oklahoma State—but it’s never too early to preview one of the premiere preseason tournaments.

The Maui field is typically loaded, and this year is no exception, featuring three Top-10 teams per the AP poll in #5 Oregon, #6 UNC, and #9 Wisconsin, plus UConn, a two-time Maui Invitational champion ranked in the high-teens. Oklahoma State, Georgetown, Tennessee, and host Chaminade round out the bracket.

Tennessee

Head Coach: Rick Barnes: 15-19 (1 year); 619-333 career record (29 years)

2015-2016 Record: 15-19

2016-2017 KenPom: 99th (85th Offense, 124th Defense)

Coaches Poll: N/A

CBS Sports Poll: 103

2015-2016 Summary: Rick Barnes’ debut campaign in Knoxville did not quite go as planned, as the Volunteers suffered their first losing season since 2004-2005. After finishing 12th in the 14-team SEC, Tennessee did make some noise in the conference tournament, including an upset over 5-seed Vanderbilt, but Ben Simmons and LSU quickly dashed those Cinderella aspirations in the quarterfinals.

2016-2017 Outlook: Gone are Kevin Punter and Amari Moore, Tennessee’s two leading scorers from last year. Growing pains are an inevitability—eight freshmen and five sophomores litter the 16-man roster—but UT will employ a three-guard or (at times) four-guard lineup that should play at a much faster pace than last season’s 100th Adjusted Tempo mark (per KenPom).

Key Players: On a team chockfull of youngsters, Robert Hubbs III (10.6 PPG, 3.9 RPG) needs to be as assertive as ever in his senior season while justifying his #23 national recruiting ranking in the Class of 2013—two spots in front of Joel Embiid. Joining Hubbs III in the backcourt is lead guard Lamonte Turner, a pure scorer with a fantastic midrange game who was forced to sit out last year due to eligibility issues.

Matchup with UConn: With Tennessee lingering on the other side of the bracket, a date with UConn is improbable and would likely only occur in a meaningless consolation game—something the Huskies want to avoid.

Wisconsin

Head Coach: Greg Gard: 15-8 (1 year)

2015-2016 Record: 22-13 (lost in Sweet 16 of NCAA Tournament)

2016-2017 KenPom: 8th (8th Offense, 7th Defense)

Coaches Poll: 10th

CBS Sports Poll: 11th

2015-2016 Summary: When Bo Ryan abruptly resigned in mid-December, Wisconsin was just 7-5, including home losses to Western Illinois and Milwaukee. The Badgers didn’t immediately respond to Greg Gard, either, and were 9-9 after a loss at Northwestern on January 12th. It was then that something clicked. Wisconsin proceeded to win seven straight games, righting the ship en route to an 18th-consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. Bronson Koenig’s ridiculous buzzer-beating three-pointer against Xavier to advance UW into the Sweet-16 was the icing on the cake.

2016-2017 Outlook: Everyone and their mother are back, meaning the goal is a third Final Four appearance in the last four years. It will be the first time since 2000-2001 that Bo Ryan isn’t strolling the sidelined, but Wisconsin appears to be in great hands under Gard, Ryan’s handpicked choice. Among the most experienced rosters in the country, the Badgers will go as their four senior starters do: Nigel Hayes, Koenig, Zak Showalter, and Vitto Brown.

Key Players: Nigel Hayes (15.7 PPG, 5.8 RPG) sacrificed almost all his efficiency (37% FG) for better counting stats, as his Offensive Rating dipped from 123.8 in 2014-2015 to 103.6 last year. Bronson Koenig (13.1 PPG, 39% 3FG) has an affinity for long two-pointers as well as a penchant for the big moment. Ethan Happ (12.4 PPG, 7.9 RPG), the reigning Big-10 Freshman of the Year, is a walking double-double who also gets after it defensively—he remarkably led the conference in steals despite being listed at 6’9”, 235.

Matchup with UConn: Now that would be fun. First one to 50 wins. Koenig/Showalter would have their hands full with Jalen Adams and Alterique Gilbert, but a UConn win might require Amida Brimah to play the game of his life upon dealing with Hayes/Brown/Happ on the glass.

Georgetown

Head Coach: John Thompson III: 264-133 (12 years); 332-175 career record (16 years)

2015-2016 Record: 15-18

2016-2017 KenPom: 29th (32nd Offense, 29th Defense)

Coaches Poll: N/A

CBS Sports Poll: 33rd

2015-2016 Summary: Year 12 at Georgetown for JT3 resulted in his first losing season at the helm, a lost year in which the Hoyas never really had any momentum. That’s the result of non-conference home losses to Radford and UNC-Asheville, plus losing ten of the final 12 games. D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera probably started scoring straight out of the womb, but his graduation is likely a blessing in disguise for Georgetown.

2016-2017 Outlook: How many breakout candidates can one school have? There are some major cogs listed below, but the two primary X-factors on this Georgetown team may be transfers Rodney Pryor and Jonathan Mulmore. They’ll determine if the Hoyas can quickly put last season in the rearview and dance again come March.

Key Players: Isaac Copeland (11.1 PPG, 54% 2FG) has some Otto Porter to his game and is knocking on the door of becoming a household name. Ditto for L.J. Peak (12.3 PPG, 41% 3FG)—the household name portion, that is. Jessie Govan (6.8 PPG, 4.1 RPG) is a projected first-round pick at the moment. Bradley Hayes’ breakout came last year—he had 236 points (8.7 PPG and 181 rebounds (6.7 RPG) after totaling 30 points and 42 rebounds in his first three years on campus. This offseason, the NCAA granted Hayes a sixth year of eligibility—that’s bad news for opposing slashers.

Matchup with UConn: It may not happen in Maui, but the old Big East rivals will square off in the nation’s capital in mid-January.

Oregon

Head Coach: Dana Altman: 154-64 (6 years); 564-307 career record (27 years)

2015-2016 Record: 31-7 (lost in Elite 8 of NCAA Tournament)

2016-2017 KenPom: 6th (5th Offense, Defense 11th)

Coaches Poll: 5th

CBS Sports Poll: 7th

2015-2016 Summary: Pegged by some “bracketologists” as just another top seed in the West who wouldn’t cash in, Oregon advanced to the Elite 8, stepping over a salty Mike Krzyzewski and Duke in the process, before falling to Buddy Hield and Oklahoma. As entertaining a watch as there was, the Ducks won both the Pac-12 regular season and Pac-12 tournament titles.

2016-2017 Outlook: With Utah and Cal taking a step back, the bizarre Allonzo Trier situation at Arizona, and the fact that Oregon’s rotation is an embarrassment of riches, the Ducks are poised to double down and repeat. Up next: potentially the school’s first Final Four appearance since 1939.

Key Players: Dillon Brooks (16.7 PPG, 52% 2FG, 5.4 RPG) is the first preseason All-America member in school history, but he’s likely to miss the Maui Invitational after undergoing foot surgery in July. Dylan Ennis, whose own foot injury limited him to 21 minutes last year, fortuitously was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA and will handle the point guard duties. 6’10” Chris Boucher (12.1 PPG, 2.9 BPG) and 6’9” Jordan Bell (7.0 PPG, 1.8 BPG) block everything in sight—and Boucher can shoot threes, too. So can Tyler Dorsey (13.4 PPG, 41% 3FG), a microwave scorer who wisely delayed his pursuit of the NBA.

Matchup with UConn: In what would be a track meet, this matchup wouldn’t occur until Wednesday, possibly in the championship game. Terry Larrier vs. Dillon Brooks would be appointment television, but despite Brooks’ absence the hypothetical talent on the floor is borderline overwhelming.

Oklahoma State

Head Coach: Brad Underwood: 1st season; 89-14 career record (3 years)

2015-2016 Record: 12-20

2016-2017 KenPom: 60th (73rd Offense, 56th Defense)

Coaches Poll: N/A

CBS Sports Poll: 47th

2015-2016 Summary: Travis Ford got the boot after the Cowboys limped to a 12-20 record—the program’s worst mark since 1986-1987. Limping is the perfect description, by the way, as Phil Forte III, Jawun Evans, and Tavarius Shine all missed serious time with various ailments. With the backcourt beyond depleted, it was open season for Big-12 opponents as Oklahoma State snapped a three-year run of NCAA Tournament appearances.

2016-2017 Outlook: Enter Brad Underwood, whose Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks won 32, 29, and 28 games respectively the last three seasons—highlighted by their upset of 3-seeded West Virginia in last year’s NCAA Tournament. Underwood’s teams excel at forcing turnovers, doing so at a 26% clip last year—expect him to correctly utilize the talented guards he’s inherited. Oklahoma State has much more to play for than a new coach and hopeful return to the Big Dance, though—they’re dedicating this season to Tyrek Coger, an incoming Cowboy who collapsed and died during a summer workout.

Key Players: Phil Forte III, limited to three games last year due to an elbow injury, has unlimited range and could make the Lahaina Civic Center look small in a hurry—he is a 39% three-point shooter who makes 600 triples a day as part of his workout. Joining Forte at the guard spot is Jawun Evans (12.9 PPG, 4.9 APG), who won Big-12 Freshman of the Year despite missing the final ten games with a bum shoulder. Someone—anyone really, needs to emerge in the frontcourt for the Cowboys to be taken seriously.

Matchup with UConn: There will be much more on this guaranteed pairing in the coming weeks, but this is one the Huskies can’t let slip away, plain and simple. If Adams and Gilbert take care of the rock, it could be a rout.

North Carolina

Head Coach: Roy Williams: 365-108 (13 years); 783-209 career record (28 years)

2015-2016 Record: 33-7 (Lost in national championship game)

2016-2017 KenPom: 5th (3rd Offense, 12th Defense)

Coaches Poll: 6th

CBS Sports Poll: 6th

2015-2016 Summary: Brice Johnson finally put it all together and was named a First Team All-America (as well as KenPom POY). Marcus Paige broke out of a career-worst shooting rut in the nick of time. Joel Berry and Isaiah Hicks got better as the season wore on, and UNC was in the national championship game. Then, Kris Jenkins happened. The buzzer beater is something that Roy Williams has admitted he’ll never get over. That being said, you know what could accelerate the healing process? Another shot at the title.

2016-2017 Outlook: This current roster is more than capable of delivering on that. Johnson and Paige have moved on. Glue guy Theo Pinson is out for an extended period of time after breaking his right foot and undergoing surgery just last month. But the Tar Heels return a core of Berry, Hicks, Justin Jackson, and Kennedy Meeks while adding a trio of four-star recruits.

Key Players: Joel Berry (12.8 PPG, 3.8 APG) put it all together during the stretch run, averaging 14.8 PPG on 56% shooting over his final nine games last year—including a 20-point effort versus Villanova. Nate Britt may have to hold off YouTube sensation and incoming freshman Seventh Woods at the other guard position. If Justin Jackson (12.2 PPG, 54% 2FG) could extend his range to the three-point line in his junior campaign, the ceiling screams All-American and NBA lottery pick. The only hindrance preventing Isaiah Hicks (8.9 PPG, 4.6 RPG) from becoming a star is his rate of 6.7 fouls committed per 40 minutes. Don’t forget about Kennedy Meeks (9.2 PPG, 5.9 RPG), either.

Matchup with UConn: This is the likely semifinal on Tuesday. UConn would need a Vance Jackson or Rodney Purvis to catch fire from the perimeter in order to compensate for UNC’s girth on the interior. Jalen Adams vs. Joel Berry? Yes, please.

Chaminade

With all due respect to the Division-II program, advancing past UNC in the first-round probably won’t happen. Which means that UConn-Chaminade implies the Huskies lost to Oklahoma State, making for a nightmarish Thanksgiving holiday.