By Eric Eichelberger
When you close your eyes and think of Maui, do you picture a warm breeze, perfect white sand beaches and crystal-clear water waves gently crashing in the background? If so, you are terribly wrong and I pity you, because you should be envisioning college basketball. Specifically, Virginia Tech basketball.
Virginia Tech has the pleasure of traveling halfway around the world this weekend to participate in the Maui invitational. In this article we will preview the participants and Virginia Tech’s chances of bringing home the trophy.
Virginia Tech: The People’s Favorite
The Hokies are no doubt off to a fast start, reaching 5-0 in Mike Young’s early tenure. The trip to an undefeated start has been a true team effort, with many players stepping up along the way. Landers Nolley, the unanimous team MVP, is averaging just north of 20 points per game, while shooting 46% from three. With the lack of an actual senior, guard Wabissa Bede, takes the helm of “senior” leadership. The floor general is dishing 8.0 assists a game and has been pivotal on the defensive end. Aside from those mentioned, every night this season you could count on a different Hokie jumping into the spotlight. Whether it’s Nahim Alleyne or P.J. Horne providing a consistent second scoring option, Hunter Cattoor igniting the Cassell Guard against Lehigh, Tyrece Radford banging the boards, or Jalen Cone and Isaiah Wilkins lighting it up from three in a record-setting performance, the Hokies have been relying on a full-team effort.
The Hokies first opponent (Monday, November 25 at 5:00pm) will likely be the betting favorite to win the Maui. So, how can VT rise the occasion? Two ways come to mind; continue the full-team effort and light it up from three. In addition to the stardom of Landers Nolley, if the Hokies can continue to rely on everyone to fill in other roles, there is no reason the Hokies can’t compete to win. Secondly, the Hokies need to keep launching those three pointers. If I told you the Hokies were one of the best, if not the best, team from three would you believe it? You should. Let’s dive into those numbers. In the chart below, we plotted every NCAA team’s three point percentage against their three point attempts. The more down and to the left you are on the chart, the more your team is shooting like Ben Simmons. The more up and to the right you are, the more your team is shooting like Dell Curry…….’s son. Good news, the Hokies are far to the right and near the top. In fact, the Hokies are the only team in D1 ball to launch over 150 three attempts and shoot over 40%, an impressive feat, that the need to keep up to win the Maui Invitational.
Michigan State: The Vegas Favorite
Preseason #1, Kenpom #1, 5-star recruits, Hall of Fame coach… we all understand the pedigree that the Spartans are checking in their bags to Hawaii. Of all the teams in the Maui, Michigan State is undoubtedly the best rebounding and defensive team. After an early loss to the Kentucky Wildcats, which does raise an eyebrow or two right now, they have been cruising, including an impressive win against ranked Seton Hall. This talented and deep (somehow they already have 16 players to log minutes this season. I didn’t know that was possible, since the Hokies only had 10 players on their roster last year, and 4 after the departure of Buzz Williams. Anywho…) will pose a challenge to all their opponents, but I am pumped for the Hokies to take the first shot Monday.
Chaminade: The Locals Looking to Repeat History
We are a Virginia Tech blog, so you probably think I am just going to drone on about how the Silverswords recorded one of the biggest upsets in NCAA basketball history in 1982 against #1 UVA, a memory that no one will ever forget. I would spend more time on that, if it was the biggest upset in NCAA history, which actually belongs to the UMBC Retrievers over #1 UVA (wait… is this a typo? It happened twice?) in the NCAA tournament. Both improbable upsets that will be recorded in history for generations. Unless Chaminade channels some 1982 energy, they probably won’t threaten for Hawaii’s biggest basketball trophy.
Kansas: The Traditional Powerhouse
With just as many accolades as Michigan State, the Jayhawks will be another favorite to win the Maui. While they suffered a loss to Duke in the opening night of the season, Kansas has been coasting ever since. They have played one of the tougher schedules in the NCAA so far this year and performed well, looking to carry that momentum across the Pacific. Of teams in the tournament, Kansas ranks in the top 2 in all shooting categories (FG%, 3% and FT%), offensive pace, steals and rebounding. They will be another well-rounded team that the Hokies may have to face in later rounds.
BYU, Dayton, Georgia, UCLA: The Rest of the Pack
The other four teams in the Maui are relatively evenly matched, all hanging around the middle half of any ranking you track, similar to the Hokies. Dayton, Georgia and UCLA all remain unbeaten, while BYU has already suffered two losses. The Hokies and Georgia have a common opponent in Delaware State, and for what it is worth the Hokies won by a massive 36 points, while Georgia only won by a measly 34 points. No matter what path the Hokies follow through this Maui bracket, you can be rest assured they will come out having played several quality teams, something that should serve this young team well leading into ACC play. Naturally, our prediction is for the Hokies to pay for an extra checked back on the way home for their new Maui Invitation trophy! Go Hokies!