With the first round of the Maui Invitational completed, here are some key takeaways for the six teams involved in Division I action.
The first day of the Maui Invitational is in the books, and all four favored teams are heading to the winners’ bracket. Despite early scares from Syracuse and Gonzaga respectively, Tennessee and Purdue were able to pull away late and move on to the next round. Marquette won a thriller against UCLA after having its own scare, including a 12-point deficit with 15 minutes left. Kansas also won against the hosts, Chaminade.
With the second-round matchups set, here are some key takeaways from the first day of action.
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Tennessee’s offense opens up in the second half
It was a tale of two halves for the Tennessee offense. The 30 points it scored in the first half was its worst mark of the season, but the Vols followed that relative dud with a 43-point outburst in the second. Northern Colorado transfer Dalton Knecht led the way once again, but Jonas Aidoo (14 points) and Josiah-Jordan James (15 points) also poured in season-high scoring totals. A lot of the damage came from the free-throw line, but Tennessee is still continuing to show that its early offensive success might be here to stay. It’s an impressive feat to score 73 points despite committing 16 turnovers, having six shots blocked, and putting up .400/.357/.741 shooting splits — no matter how ugly the game may have been.
Judah Mintz’s rough efficiency continues for Syracuse
For Syracuse, star guard Judah Mintz’s offensive performance will likely dictate whether the Orange win or lose most games. On Monday night, his efficiency was a nightmare against one of the best defenses in the country. Mintz shot 28.6 percent from the floor, with four turnovers and four fouls to boot. This brings his season total to 39 percent from the floor, a five-percent dip from his freshman season. He has also turned the ball over seven times over the past two games, part of an early stretch that Syracuse fans are less than thrilled with. (Cuse nearly lost to Colgate before their recent loss to Tennessee.) The backcourt duo of Mintz and JJ Starling was always going to be the determining factor for Syracuse’s success this season, and their 38 percent shooting from the floor needs to improve.
Purdue got a transfer gem in Lance Jones
With the Boilermakers trailing Gonzaga by five at halftime, it was clear something needed to change. As predicted, that was the emergence of Lance Jones as a legitimate two-way mismatch against the Zags. Jones became a one-man wrecking crew early in the second half, forcing turnovers, outrunning everyone on the floor and finishing the fast break. Last season, the Boilermakers desperately needed the level of speed and athleticism Jones provides, and his efforts almost single-handedly turned the tide of the game. He will be much needed again, as his task will likely be matching up against Knecht against Tennessee.
Fouls and missed 3s plague the Zags
Gonzaga ran with Purdue for most of this game, but early foul trouble and late shooting woes were the Zags’ undoing. While they only committed 19 fouls, five players had picked up two by the end of the first half, and Graham Ike, Anton Watson and Ben Gregg all had three early in the second. The Zags also went ice cold after a hot 4-for-9 start from deep, shooting just 2-for-23 the rest of the way (including zero makes on 13 second-half attempts). The fouls are understandable — defending Zach Edey without fouling is a tall order — but if they want to avoid an upset against Syracuse, the Zags will need to find their collective stroke.
UCLA is for real
Coming into the day, there were a lot of questions surrounding the Bruins this season. Are they too young? How quickly will the international transfers adjust to the NCAA game? Who will step up in the absence of Tyger Campbell and Jaime Jaquez? Those questions were answered in their narrow loss to an experienced Marquette team. The Bruins controlled the bout for the first 25 minutes before a 17-0 Marquette run led to one of the best endings in college basketball this season. Adem Bona showed his athleticism and strength with a couple of impressive dunks. Freshman Sebastian Mack was also impressive, cementing himself as a top weapon out of the Bruins’ backcourt. They may have lost this game, but UCLA deserves careful Top 25 consideration next Monday.
Marquette comes back without Kolek
Tyler Kolek was having a tough game by his standards, finishing 3-of-7 from the floor and turning the ball over four times. He still finished with nine points and nine assists, but the senior guard was notably absent from Marquette’s 17-0 run. With Kolek on the bench, the Golden Eagles were able to manufacture consistent pressure on defense and stack baskets against a UCLA defense that seemed to be playing on their back foot for the entirety of that stretch. This doesn’t mean Marquette doesn’t need Kolek, but it does show that the Golden Eagles can be just as dangerous without their preseason All-American.