The Jayhawks head to beautiful Maui to take on one of the toughest preseason fields college basketball has ever seen. KU is one of six past national champions in the field and Gonzaga is certainly no slouch. Even Division II Chaminade (the host school) has proven capable of handing out the occasional “L”. In a bracket this tough there’s nowhere to run and nowhere to hide for Bill Self’s young KU squad. After notching a win in their first and only game of the year Friday night, the Jayhawks hopped on a plane Saturday and headed to Maui with only one full day of preparation on the island before facing a ranked Arizona team.
“There’s no doubt you wish you had more time (to prepare). It’s great to be a part of arguably the best preseason tournament field ever,” Self stated. “In a perfect world I think that we would probably be better prepared to play against a field like that if we had another month to get ready– but we don’t. Even with that being said we’re excited to be going to try and figure out where we are… I don’t think this tournament will hurt you. I think it can only help you.”
By Thursday, one of the teams in this field will leave the hot, steamy gym in Lahaina with three losses. Yes, it’s possible but Self, like most of the coaches in the field, believes you shouldn’t pass up an opportunity to play in a field this strong. No matter what -- at the tournament’s conclusion each coach will know a lot more about their teams.
“You can only go to Maui once every four years,” said Self, citing the rule that you can only play in two of these tournaments every four years. “I don’t think we’re going to turn down many opportunities to go here and plus the contracts were signed four years ago so everybody goes over there not having an idea in mind what your roster is going to be like. I welcome this and I think all coaches do. Sure you’d like to have your most experienced and best team go play a field like this but five years from now you don’t know how that’s going to play out. We’re trying to be a part of it (these types of tournaments).”
Arizona coach Lute Olson concurred with Self.
“I feel very strongly that every team is going to come out of this tournament with some positives to build on,” said Olson via teleconference last week. “They’re going to know a lot more about their teams and I think that’s the way teams are going to have to go into it. That, “Hey, this is the best of the best, and let’s learn from it whether it’s a win or a loss.”
Self is certainly no stranger to facing Arizona in Maui. Back in 2000, Self’s first year at Illinois, the Wildcats defeated the Illini in a hard-fought championship game (79-76). Self then faced Olson’s squad two more times that season and went 1-1, including an Elite Eight loss that knocked the Illini out of the NCAA tournament.
Self was able to sneak a peek at this year’s ‘Zona squad by watching their first two exhibition games.
“They have unbelievable athletes and they’re pressing more and more. They’re hungry and I’m really impressed with watching them in their exhibition games. But I really like their team,” Self told Phog.net.
“We feel good about the experience that we have. We’re not going to have two guys dominate the scoring for us like the other two guys that we lost,” also said via teleconference last week. “We’re going to have to score by committee and rebound by committee.”
Six of Arizona’s top-12 players are freshmen or sophomores so the Wildcats do have some youth on their roster. But don’t feel sorry for Olson who’s rotation can easily go ten-deep.
“It’s probably the deepest team we’ve ever had. But it’s going to have to be a team that’s going to rely on very balanced scoring,” Olson confirmed.
KU will have its hands full with Arizona’s pressure, depth and talent Monday night. But it won’t get any easier if the Jayhawks do advance. A highly-ranked Connecticut team could be waiting in the next round. Even without starting point guard Marcus Williams UConn would be a formidable foe.
“Connecticut returns the most experience of anyone. He’s inexperienced at one position. We’re inexperienced at every position,” said Self.
You wonder if 18-19-20 year-old college kids will have trouble focusing on the task hand. If you’ve ever been to Maui, there are some terrific views, but the sun and fun will have to wait.
“They’ll see the water, but they’re not going to spend any time in it,” the third-year coach proclaimed. “It’s a business trip until Wednesday after the last game. We’ll come up with some stuff after that but certainly I’m not too concerned about that right now.”
Kansas lifted weights and practiced at 7:20am Saturday morning, had breakfast and hopped on a plane by 9:30am. The Jayhawks return from Maui late Thursday night and then will leave on Monday for New York to play in the Jimmy V Classic against St. Joseph’s.