A quick note about the Maui Invitational...it will not be in Maui this year, but will instead take place in Las Vegas. Hawaii has extremely strict COVID-19 protocols, so it’ll be easier and safer for all of the teams to play in Vegas instead. The games will be played at Michelob ULTRA Arena at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino and should still be a fun time for any fans who venture out west for the event.
In this preview we’ll take a look at Texas A&M (who the Badgers are guaranteed to play) and Houston and Butler, one of whom UW will play in their second game. The other teams in the bracket include Oregon, Chaminade, Notre Dame and St. Mary’s and all of the games will air on the ESPN family of networks.
Team: Texas A&M Aggies
Location: College Station, Texas
Head coach: Buzz Williams (two seasons, 24-24)
2020-2021 record: 8-10 overall, 2-8 SEC
Top returning players: 6-foot-5, G, Quenton Jackson (10.4 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 1.7 apg, 41.1% 3P); 6-foot-2, G, Andre Gordon (8.3 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 2.7 apg)
Top newcomers: 6-foot-2, PG, Marcus Williams (14.8 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 4.3 apg) transfer from Wyoming; 6-foot-4, 4-star G, Manny Obaseki (Allen, Texas); 6-foot-0, 4-star PG, Wade Taylor IV (Lancaster, Texas); 6-foot-7, wing, Henry Coleman III (1.1 ppg, 1.4 rpg) transfer from Duke
2020-2021 review: Texas A&M was, to put it kindly, not good on offense last season. They didn’t shoot well and they turned the ball over a ton. Not a great combination, to be perfectly honest. All of those misses, though, did lead to a lot of offensive rebounding chances, which the Aggies took advantage of. In the Athlon Sports college basketball preview issue, they even note that Buzz Williams admitted last year that getting offensive rebounds was his team’s best hope at scoring.
Well, most of the players from last year’s bad offensive team are gone. Nine players from the 2020-21 team entered the transfer portal after the season and, while the defense for the Aggies was above average last year, I doubt Williams is upset about having a roster with fresh faces.
A&M did not play postseason basketball, as you probably guessed by their record, and lost in the first round of the SEC Tournament to Vanderbilt. The team also didn’t play for the entire month of February due to a COVID-19 outbreak among the program.
2021-2022 preview: With all of those players leaving via the transfer portal, the Aggies obviously picked up a few too. Four new players (and a fifth with 7-foot-0 big man Javonte Brown-Ferguson from UConn who enrolled for the second semester last year but wasn’t give a waiver to play) arrived from the portal as did a three-man recruiting class that ranked No. 26 in the nation by the 247 Composite.
4-star SG Manny Obaseki is Texas A&M’s highest rated recruit since DeAndre Jordan and was ranked as the No. 33 player in the nation. He should contribute right away. Marcus Williams transfers in from Wyoming where he was named the Mountain West Freshman of the Year last season and shot 33% from deep which, while it isn’t great, is an improvement for a team that shot 29.9% from three last season.
Brown-Ferguson is a shiny building of a man that will give the Aggies a presence in the paint and Duke transfer Henry Coleman III was rated as the No. 52 prospect in the 2021 recruiting class, so there’s some potential there.
Andre Gordon and Quenton Jackson should start again in the backcourt for the Aggies and will provide a modicum of veteran leadership for a young team. A&M is picked to finish in the bottom half of the SEC but if these two guards have all-conference type seasons and all of the new faces mesh together quickly, they could compete for an NIT spot or maybe a sneaky NCAA Tournament bid.
Team: Butler Bulldogs
Location: Indianapolis, Ind.
Conference: Big East
Head coach: LaVall Jordan (four seasons, 69-55)
2020-2021 record: 10-15 overall, 8-12 Big East
Top returning players: 6-foot-7, F, Bryce Nze (from Hartland, 11.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 2.1 apg, 44.2% 3P); 6-foot-2, PG, Aaron Thompson (10.4 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 4.7 apg); 6-foot-2, G, Chuck Harris (12.9 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.3 apg, 40.3% 3P)
Top newcomers: 6-foot-8, F, Ty Groce (15.2 ppg, 6.9 rpg) transfer from Eastern Michigan; 6-foot-5, 3-star wing, Pierce Thomas (Brownsburg, Ind.); 6-foot-6, wing, Scooby Johnson (had to redshirt last year due to torn ACL, but one of the top recruits in Butler history)
Team: Houston Cougars
Location: Houston, Texas
Head coach: Kelvin Sampson (seven seasons, 167-64)
2020-2021 record: 28-4 overall, 14-3 AAC
Top returning players: 6-foot-2, G, Marcus Sasser (13.7 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 2.2 apg); 6-foot-8, F, Fabian White, Jr. (6.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg); 6-foot-8, F/C, Reggie Chaney (4.7 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 65.5% FG)
Top newcomers: 6-foot-4, G, Kyler Edwards (10.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg) transfer from Texas Tech; 6-foot-4, 3-star G, Ramon Walker, Jr. (Pearland, Texas); 6-foot-5, wing, Taze Moore (12.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg) transfer from Cal State Bakersfield; 6-foot-10, C, Josh Carlton (3.7 ppg, 3.8 rpg) transfer from UConn