UW's tournament resume could hinge on next three days
With the Big Ten stacked from top to the Iowa border, even the conference champion might end up with five or even six losses in Big Ten play. Those in third, fourth or even fifth place might find themselves ranked in early March, despite barely finishing above .500 in the conference. You know what that means for the Big Ten's sixth, seventh and eighth place finishers. Bubble, bubble, bubble.
That brings us the beautiful island of Hawaii where the UW men's basketball team, which figures to be a factor in the Big Ten race, can do themselves a big favor in the next three days by stacking their tournament resume with a couple quality victories and even a quality loss.
The Maui Invitational commences at 2 p.m. CT and a lineup that usually includes two or three Top 15 teams has been replaced with three or four teams that are looking to sneak up on the national competition this season.
It's a tournament that won't be easy, but is certainly winnable for the Badgers. No matter what happens, it's very likely the Badgers will be looking back at these next three days in mid-March saying, "That's when we clinched our NCAA Tournaent berth" or "That's when we lost it."
Imagine if UW can just reach the Maui Invitational Championship Game. The Badgers could possibly play Arizona, Gonzaga, and Maryland in three straight days before capping off a four-game stretch with Duke next week at the Kohl Center. Even just a 2-2 record in that stretch would go a long way. A 3-1 record would be nothing short of a success.
So how does the Maui Invitational breakdown? Let's take a look at the field:
Top Half of the Bracket
No. 21 Maryland vs. Chaminade - 8:30 p.m. CT, ESPN U - Line: Maryland -26
Maryland - Led by All-American candidate Greivis Vasquez, the Terps are certainly a favorite in Maui, if not the favorite. After a second round exit in the NCAA Tournament last season, Maryland returns four starters and has two capable freshmen centers ready to step in and play. SB Nation Blog: Testudo Times
Chaminade - The Division II host team made headlines when it upset No. 1 Virginia in 1982, but it doesn't figure to be a factor in any games this week. Maybe if Chaminade faces Colorado Wednesday it could pull off a win.
Cincinnati vs. No. 24 Vanderbilt - 4:30 p.m. CT, ESPN 2 - Line: Vanderbilt -4
Cincinnati - The Bearcats figure to finish in the bottom half of the Big East this season after tying for ninth last year. Head coach Mick Cronin is doing a good job repairing a fractured program and Cincinnati could challenge Maryland if it can get by Vanderbilt.
Vanderbilt - The Vandals are a sleeper in the SEC after failing to reach a post-season tournament last season. They are also a sleeper in Maui and like Cincy, Vanderbilt is capable of upsetting Maryland if it can get out of the first round.
Bottom Half of the Bracket
Gonzaga vs. Colorado - 2 p.m. CT, ESPN 2 - Line: Gonzaga -10.5
Gonzaga - The Zags had a case for jumping into the rankings this week even after losing at Michigan State. They looked impressive in East Lansing and nearly pulled off the upset. Sophomore forward Robert Sacre looks like a star in the making and Gonzaga's front court is the most loaded in this tournament. SB Nation Blog: The Slipper Still Fits
Colorado - Basketball is never the story in Boulder and it won't be this season either. Colorado returns four starters but does that matter when they are coming off a 1-15 performance in Big 12 play last season? SB Nation Blog: The Ralphie Report
Wisconsin vs. Arizona - 11 p.m., ESPN 2 - Line: Wisconsin -4
Wisconsin - The Badgers are a sleeper in this tournament, but they will have to get past Arizona before they can make any noise. This figures to be a balanced offense, but UW really needs either Trevon Hughes or Jason Bohannon to make a run at tournament MVP if they figure to win this thing.
Arizona - Sean Miller -- the hot coaching commodity in the offseason -- takes over a program that lost three starters, but still boasts senior guard Nic Wise, who will be a handful for Hughes. Miller's outstanding recruiting class will have to play older immediately if the Wildcats want to challenge for the Maui crown. SB Nation Blog: Arizona Desert Swarm
Ranking the Field
First Round: Maryland over Chaminade, Vanderbilt over Cincinnati, Gonzaga over Colorado, Wisconsin over Arizona
Second Round: Maryland over Vanderbilt, Gonzaga over Wisconsin
Consolation Bracket: Cincinnati over Chaminade, Arizona over Colorado, Arizona over Cincinnati, Colorado over Chaminade
Third Place: Wisconsin over Vanderbilt
Championship: Gonzaga over Maryland