MAUI, Hawaii – For the first time in the history of the 30th annual EA Sports Maui Invitational, every one of the eight teams will enter the event with an undefeated record.
Arkansas' 3-0 mark under third-year head coach Mike Anderson puts it in a mix of teams that have combined to go 30-0 so far during this early 2013-2014 season.
"The record of the eight participating schools speaks volumes about the quality of basketball that will be played at the Lahaina Civic Center next week," Tournament Chairman Dave Odom said. "The beautiful island of Maui will once again host some of the top college basketball teams, players and coaches as they compete in the 30th annual EA SPORTS Maui Invitational."
That's a sentiment echoed by former Arkansas player and current ESPN analyst Jimmy Dykes, who will joined by Jon Sciambi in calling the action from Maui.
"The Razorbacks are going to see some great competition in this event," noted Dykes, who will moderate a Sunday morning press conference with all eight coaches. "It could really be a place that could make a statement about the progress of their basketball program."
Arkansas got a pre-tournament victory on Saturday night when Coty Clarke led the Razorbacks to the EA Sports Video Game Championship over Dayton in the finals.
Arkansas will open up the tournament at 2 p.m. CST on Monday at the 2,400-seat Lahaina Civic Center when it faces California (4-0), which was 21-13 last season and made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Bears return four of their five starters from that squad – redshirt senior point guard Justin Cobbs (6-3, 180), senior center Richard Solomon (6-10, 235), junior forward David Kravish (6-9, 221) and former Missouri and Anderson player Ricky Kreklow (6-6, 210) – and have added 6-6 McDonald's All-American freshman guard Jabari Bird.
Cobb is the Pac 12's leading active career assist with 352 in 71 games (25 in his first four games this season) while Kravish has 111 career blocks and Solomon 88.
Solomon is also sixth nationally right now averaging 12.6 rebounds per game this season for Cal, who has won three easy games and also edged Oakland 64-60.
"It is a critical game for Arkansas against California," Dykes said. "I think they could very well be in the top three or four of the Pac 12. They could finish higher than that, but I don't think they will finish lower than that....They just have a very, very solid team that is going to win a lot of games.
"It would be a resume win and one that Arkansas could have coming out of the shoot," Dykes added. "This is a huge tournament for them. It is a premier event on our air on ESPN and a lot of eyes are on it. Win that first game and get on that big stage and it would carry a lot of weight for them."
A win over California would move Arkansas into a Tuesday game with the winner of Monday's game between Syracuse (4-0) and Minnesota (5-0).
The other side of the bracket has Baylor (4-0) facing host Chaminade (2-0) and Gonzaga (4-0) battling Dayton (4-0) on Monday.
Dykes likes what he has seen out of this season's Razorbacks so far with the additions of Alandise Harris, Bobby Portis, Moses Kingsley as well as improvement from leading rebounder Coty Clarke and sophomore guard Michael Qualls.
"I like this year's team better than I do last year's team," Dykes said. "...I continue to think they are built better this year to win away from Bud Walton Arena with Harris, Portis, Kingsley, Clarke and Qualls. I think those guys get the job done on the boards when they have to get it done...That should give Arkansas basketball fans much more hope that they can do things away from home beginning with Monday in Maui."
Harris is leading the way for Arkansas while averaging 18.3 points off the bench.
"This kid comes in and gets points, he gets tough rebounds, he gets blocked shots, he can guard a couple of positions," Dykes said. "I really like him coming off the bench. There are not a lot of guys than can produce like he does coming off the bench in the SEC right now."
Dykes says that Arkansas has established an identity.
"You know who Arkansas is when you watch them – they are very aggressive team both offensively and defensively in both the fullcourt and the halfcourt," Dykes said. "...There were times when they get to the fourth, fifth, sixth pass to get the best shot. I see set plays out of timeouts."
"We can't make big picture analysis just three games in," Dykes said. "But I have seen a lot of good things so far.
"I'm not as concerned about this team having a true point guard as I would be if they came down and ran set play after set play after set play," Dykes said. "...But this offense is set up for all five guys to get a touch on the ball and they are moving and screening and cutting much better than they ever were last year. The ball would just get stuck last year in BJ Young's hands or Marshawn Powell's hands.
"The ball got stuck in (junior guard) Ky Madden's hands last year and he has to grow out of that this year," Dykes added.
As far as the SEC race, Dykes sees an Arkansas team that could compete for the upper tier of the league.
"Kentucky is ultra-talented and they are head and shoulders above 345 of 351 teams out there," Dykes said. "Florida just continues to have injuries...If they could ever get healthy they are the next closest team in term of making a run to the Final Four.
"After that I see a lot of question marks already," Dykes added.
"I think Arkansas is going to be a lot better than people realize," Dykes said. "This is an Arkansas team that is certainly capable of finishing in the top five or six of the SEC. If they do that and win a couple of games away from Bud Walton Arena, then you are looking at a team that could very well be in the NCAA Tournament."
Arkansas' basketball team poses for its team photo at the Maui Invitational Players Party and Video Challenge, which the Razorbacks later won.
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