March is still a few months away, but one of the greatest traditions in college basketball is already upon us: early-season tournaments. These tournaments showcase fun, non-conference action that can impact seeding in the Big Dance. They can also determine if some teams hear their name called on Selection Sunday. On paper, the best tournament this season is the 40th annual Maui Invitational. The 2023 Maui Invitational field includes four AP top-10 teams (No. 1 Kansas, No. 2 Purdue, No. 4 Marquette, and No. 7 Tennessee), as well as No. 11 Gonzaga. Rounding out the field are UCLA, Syracuse, and Division II Chaminade. Due to wildfire damage in Lahaina, this year’s edition of the Maui Invitational will be played in Honolulu.
Maui Invitational Preview
No. 7 Tennessee (3-0) vs Syracuse (3-0)
A year after a disappointing Sweet 16 exit at the hands of cinderella Florida Atlantic, the Tennessee Volunteers are off to a hot start to the 2023 season. They beat Tennessee Tech by 38 and Wofford by 21 at home. They also took down Wisconsin by 10 points in Madison. The Vols have reached 80 points in all three contests so far and have a top-30 defensive efficiency rating in college basketball. Senior transfer Dalton Knecht (19.7 PPG) leads Tennessee into their first-round Maui Invitational contest against the unranked Syracuse Orange. In the first season of the post-Boeheim era, Syracuse’s starting lineup is entirely sophomores. Led in scoring by sophomore Judah Mintz (23.0 PPG), the Orange have zero seniors in their rotation. Thus far, they beat New Hampshire (by 11), Canisius (by 12), and Colgate (by 4) – all at the “don’t call me Carrier” JMA Wireless Dome. A win against Tennessee here is unlikely for Adrian Autry’s young squad, but it would go a long way for a team that hopes to be in the bubble conversation on Selection Sunday.
No. 2 Purdue (3-0) vs No. 11 Gonzaga (2-0)
If Purdue wants to put last March’s disappointment firmly behind them, the Maui Invitational is an excellent opportunity to do so. So far, the Boilermakers have more than doubled up Samford in their opener (98-45), beat Morehead State by 30, and comfortably took care of Xavier in a 12-point win. Unsurprisingly, Zach Edey (20.7 PPG) leads this familiar-looking Purdue squad. Now, the Boilermakers will leave West Lafayette for the first time this year. They will play Mark Few’s Bulldogs, who are 2-0 on the young season. Gonzaga has a 15-point win against NCAA-tournament-hopeful Yale and a 123-57 win against NAIA Eastern Oregon. A year after an Elite Eight appearance and now without Drew Timme, Gonzaga sees a familiar last name return to their squad in Ryan Nembhard (11.0 PPG). Nembhard is a Creighton transfer whose brother played for the Zags from 2020-22. Though a small sample size so far, freshman Braden Huff (21.0 PPG) leads Gonzaga in scoring while coming off the bench. If these two are jockeying for top-line seeding when February turns to March, look back to this game.
No. 1 Kansas (3-0) vs Chaminade (Division II, 1-2)
On the flip side of the bracket, Division II Chaminade will look to pull off an upset that would put 16 seeds UMBC and Fairleigh Dickinson to shame. They will face top-ranked Kansas, fresh off an 89-84 win over Kentucky in the Champions Classic. In their two prior games, the Jayhawks scored 99 points in wins against both NC Central and Manhattan College. After a second-round exit in the NCAA Tournament last season, Michigan transfer Hunter Dickinson led the 2023-24 Jayhawks (22.0 PPG). Kevin McCullar (16.3 PPG) is in his second year at Kansas after three seasons with Texas Tech. The Chaminade Silverswords come into the contest with a 1-2 record and are led in scoring by Isaac Amaral-Artharee (21.7 PPG). Chaminade looks to improve to 9-95 all-time in Maui Invitational play. The Jayhawks are chomping to position themselves early for the number one overall seed.
UCLA (3-0) vs. No. 4 Marquette (3-0)
UCLA is yet to face tough competition this season, having beaten Saint Francis, Lafayette, and LIU at home en route to their 3-0 record. With the exception of Kenneth Nwuba (4.7 PPG), all the players from UCLA’s 2021 Final Four run are now gone. This year’s team is led in scoring out of the gate by Adem Bona (18.0 PPG). The Bruins look to pick up some resume-building wins in either the winner’s or consolation side of the bracket. Marquette’s Tyler Kolek (14.7 PPG) shook off an ankle injury suffered in the team’s 30-point home win over Rider to return and drop 24 points in the Golden Eagles’ gritty win at No. 23 Illinois. Kameron Jones (19.3 PPG) leads Marquette in scoring going into the Maui Invitational. Jones could prove to be as valuable to his squad as the reigning Big East player of the year, Kolek. Marquette has their sights set on a first seed a year after they couldn’t make it out of the opening weekend.
The Last Word
The 2023 Maui Invitational Tournament field is stacked. The final four of this early-season tournament could very well be the Final Four of the 2024 NCAA Tournament. Either way, Monday kicks off what should be a great three days of action in Honolulu.