As if we weren’t short on news and happenings in Gopher basketball land these days, the brain trust behind the Maui Invitational, where Minnesota will play in November, today released the pairings for the tournament. In a fun and interesting twist, Minnesota drew the Syracuse Orange as their first opponent, which pits them against perhaps the best team in the field right off the bat.
The EA Sports Maui Invitational is one of the country’s most high-profile holiday tournaments, so if you’re late to the party, the Gophers are part of a fairly stacked field that should give them plenty of national exposure early in Richard Pitino’s first season. And much like last year when Minnesota squared off against some pretty good teams in the Battle 4 Atlantis, the collection of opponents they’re likely to face will do nothing but help their RPI, giving the team a chance to bring home a solid victory or two. And the games are on ESPN/ESPN2 for the most part, so no AXS.tv for this fan base.
Syracuse represents a great opportunity for Minnesota to get on the map early on in the season and play a top team in the nation. And with a young team on the court trying to figure things out, facing off against stiff competition will be a great test for the team before heading to conference play. And with Syracuse hot on the trail of Isaiah Whitehead and Ja’Quan Newton – two nationally-relevant recruits – the stakes and trash talking between two fan bases hungry for top recruits adds another competitive wrinkle.
Of course, the biggest potential drawback of playing in the Maui Invitational is the possibility of facing the Chaminade Silverswords – the longtime host of the tournament. Chaminade, while known for taking down the mighty Virginia Cavaliers in the 1980s, is a Division II school that doesn’t offer much in the way of risk/reward. Since they take part in the tournament they play three games, meaning that several teams have to potential to take a really bad loss during their stay in Hawaii. Of course, beating a D-2 team doesn’t mean anything either, so playing Chaminade in the tournament is a high-risk/no-reward situation. With the Gophers on the other side of the bracket, however, their chances of actually facing the Silverswords is low compared to other teams. As last year’s Texas team can attest, playing against Chaminade in their home gym is no picnic, so I’m glad that the Gophers will have to go out of their way to face them.
The game against Syracuse is scheduled for Monday, Nov. 25 at 4:30 p.m. on ESPN2. The Gophers will face either Arkansas or California for their second game and either Gonzaga, Baylor, Dayton or Chaminade in the final game.
Also check out ESPN’s Maui Invitational preview.