Three ranked teams among 8 at Maui Invitational
LAHAINA, Hawaii (AP) Three ranked teams, some of the biggest names in college basketball and oh yeah, some really nice weather. Just another Maui Invitational.
The tournament that has become one of the early season highlights in a sport that has always welcomed big matchups in the days before Thanksgiving gets underway Monday.
No. 17 Vanderbilt and St. John's, a couple of teams with 3-0 records, start the opening quadrupleheader. The Commodores are coming off an overtime win over Stony Brook, while St. John's used a big second-half comeback to beat Rutgers last week.
''I think you could call that a `wake-up' call,''' Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said Sunday of the home win over the Seawolves. ''It shows a team that you have to respect every opponent and that if you're not focused against a good team you can lose. We're still a young team but we're an experienced young team.''
Vanderbilt started three sophomores and two freshmen last season, one that ended with a 21-14 record and a run to the quarterfinals of the NIT.
''You can learn a lot about your team playing three games in three days,'' Stallings said. ''Kids just want to play. They would much rather play three straight days than practice three straight days.''
St. John's is coached by its all-time leading scorer, Chris Mullin, and he has found out in a hurry in his first season how important depth can be, especially with the three games in the next three days.
''We have nine new players and a whole new staff and we're just learning about each other,'' Mullin said. ''This is a chance to bind together but it will be harder with our recent injuries.''
Freshman guard Malik Ellison, the son of former Louisville star Pervis Ellison, didn't play in the win over Rutgers because of a foot injury, and junior college transfer Darien Williams left that game in the first half with a shoulder injury. Neither practiced Saturday, and they weren't expected to practice Sunday either.
The Vanderbilt-St. John's winner will face the winner of the game between No. 14 Indiana and Wake Forest in Tuesday's semifinals. The other bracket will have the winner of No. 4 Kansas and Chaminade against the winner of UCLA and UNLV.
The championship of the Maui Jim Maui Invitational is Wednesday.
Hoosiers coach Tom Crean said managing minutes will be important, especially with his young frontcourt featuring 6-foot-10 Thomas Bryant, who had 17 points, seven rebounds and four blocks in Thursday's 86-65 win over Creighton.
''There is a good chance of fatigue and that usually means unforced turnovers,'' Crean said. ''That's when you know fatigue has set in. It has to be everybody doing the same things they always do.''
FREE THROW TRASH TALK: The eight coaches were all paired with a local middle school student in a free-throw shooting contest held just yards from the Pacific Ocean.
Mullin and UCLA's Steve Alford were teammates on the 1984 U.S. Olympic team, and they are among the best free-throw shooters in NCAA history.
Mullin made his free throws and then it was up to Alford to clinch it for his two-man team.
Just as Alford went to shoot the deciding free throw, Mullin yelled ''Steve.'' When the ball swished Alford didn't even move as he yelled back ''Mully.''
ROOTING INTEREST: Tournament director Dave Odom promises to be neutral this week, but it wouldn't be surprising for him to be rooting inside for Wake Forest, where he coached Tim Duncan.
''My feelings will remain my own,'' Odom said with a laugh. ''I just hope all the teams here have a great week of basketball and a great experience on Maui.''
Odom coached in the Maui Invitational with South Carolina and he was an assistant to Terry Holland at Virginia when the top-ranked Cavaliers and Ralph Sampson lost to Division II Chaminade in the upset that led to the start of this tournament.
''People think we didn't play hard that day,'' Holland said. ''The players played as hard as they could. They just didn't play very well.''
NO UPSET: Kansas will face Chaminade in the opening round, and the Silverswords won't be able to sneak up on the Jayhawks, who lost to No. 13 Michigan State on Tuesday in the Champions Classic.
''This will start a three-day grind,'' Kansas coach Bill Self said. ''We'll find out a lot about our depth, that will be a huge factor for every team. It's early but games like these can come back to really help you once conference play starts.''