Top 10 basketball teams not here for sun and surf
By Jim O'Connell
LAHAINA, Maui For the second straight year the Maui Invitational has three teams ranked in the top 10, including the No. 1 team in the nation.
With a highly competitive field to worry about, there won't be much board time for coaches Steve Lavin of UCLA, left, and Mike Krzyzewski of Duke.
Four teams in the preseason top 10 No. 2 Maryland, No. 4 Kentucky, No. 6 Florida and No. 10 Saint Joseph's have already lost a game less than two weeks into the season.
"That's a fact of life," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said yesterday, the day before his Blue Devils open the Maui Invitational against Seton Hall. "When you play tough people you have a chance to lose. It's a chance to get better. You don't come to Maui expecting to go 3-0. You come to Maui expecting to have three very difficult games and to come out getting better."
This is Duke's third trip to Maui and the Blue Devils have left 3-0 each time. They won the eight-team tournament in 1992, also as the No. 1 team in the country and defending national champion, and in 1997, as the preseason No. 3.
Those fields also had highly ranked teams Duke beat No. 1 Arizona in the 1997 title game and that's something Krzyzewski sees as a positive.
"Our sport is a great sport because we play each other anywhere, any time, throughout the season and we get better because of it, and that's why the NCAA Tournament is so good," Krzyzewski said.
Today's other opening-round matchups have South Carolina against Chaminade, the Division II host school; Kansas against Ball State; and UCLA against Houston.
Kansas and UCLA are in the same bracket, so a title would mean a win over the other in one semifinal and more than likely over Duke in the championship game.
Kansas coach Roy Williams and UCLA's Steve Lavin both said they weren't concerned with other top 10 teams losing early.
"In college basketball those things are going to happen," Williams said. "There's no reason to focus on that, just on trying to make our team better."
Lavin described the tournament as a "crash course."
"It's a wonderful opportunity to learn about your team in an accelerated atmosphere with three games in three days," he said.
As Krzyzewski, Williams and Lavin played down the early losses by the higher-profile programs, Houston coach Ray McCallum jumped in.
"On the other hand, our guys are saying, 'Man, maybe we can pull the upset,' " he said.
Last year's tournament produced some early upsets, with No. 2 Maryland and No. 14 Connecticut losing to Dayton before No. 1 Arizona beat No. 8 Illinois in the championship game.
In college basketball, Chaminade is synonymous with upset. In 1982, competing then in the NAIA, the Silverswords knocked off No. 1 Virginia and Ralph Sampson.
First-year South Carolina coach Dave Odom was an assistant to Terry Holland at Virginia then, and he'll have plenty to tell his team before the opening-round game this year.
"The memory of 1982 is indelible and one of the reasons I hadn't been back since," said Odom, the head coach at Wake Forest for 12 seasons who inherited this schedule. "I was tricked into this one."
Of the teams in the field, only Seton Hall has played a game, an 87-79 victory over San Francisco on Friday in coach Louis Orr's debut with the Pirates.
Kansas will be without freshman forward Wayne Simien, its leading scorer in its two exhibition games. He is expected to miss 2-4 weeks after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery Thursday.
UCLA might have freshman point guard Cedric Bozeman for the Houston game. He practiced Saturday for the first time since taking a hard fall and bruising his tailbone in the exhibition opener.