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Basketball

Maui Primer: Scouting the rest of the field

Nov 14, 2018; Durham, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Zion Williamson (1) prepares to dunk during the second half against the Eastern Michigan Eagles at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devils won 84-46. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

One of the most highly-anticipated weeks of the college basketball regular season calendar is upon us and our beloved Cyclones are going to be right in the thick of it. It is time for the Maui Invitational.

We’ve written a ton about Iowa State and everything the Cyclones have going on entering the tournament stacked with traditional powers. We will write a lot more about them before they take on Arizona on Monday at 8 p.m.

Today, we’re going to talk about the other seven teams in the field. Some of them enter with a lot of storylines and things to unpack. Some of them enter without those things.

Regardless, I’ve written about all seven of them, starting with Iowa State’s opponent on Monday.

Arizona

Man, it is crazy to think how crazy the past year has been for Sean Miller and the Wildcats.

First, they were thrust head-first into the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball. Then, Shaquille O’Neal’s son, Shareef, decided to decommit from Arizona and instead go to conference rival UCLA. Then, it turns out Miller might not have actually been on an FBI wiretap agreeing to pay future No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft DeAndre Ayton a bunch of money as ESPN’s Mark Schlabach had reported (WHERE’S THE TAPE, MARK?!). Then, the Wildcats got upset by Nate Oats and Buffalo in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Then, DeAndre Ayton went No. 1 overall in the NBA Draft.

That’s a whole lot of excitement. I’m glad I’m not tasked with covering Arizona basketball. But, the Wildcats have emerged from the other side of all this craziness to be a solid team again this season (shocking, right?).

I am willing to bet you will never find a higher scoring duo of Brandons than the one Arizona puts on the court this season. Brandon Rudolph is averaging a team-high 18.7 points per game. True freshman Brandon Williams is averaging 14.3 points per game and has dished out a Monte Morris-esque 16 assists with zero turnovers.

Also, former Duke blue-chip recruit, Chase Jeter has reemerged in Tuscon to average 14.0 points and 7.0 rebounds per game through the team’s first three games.

Gonzaga

Gonzaga has officially become a program that reloads rather than rebuilds.

The Bulldogs played for the national title just two years ago. They have a team good enough to make a similar type of run again this season led by junior forward Rui Hachimura, who is projected to be a lottery pick in next year’s NBA Draft.

Through three regular season games, including a 94-71 shellacking of Texas A&M on Thursday, Hachimura is averaging 22.7 points per game and shooting close to 65 percent from the field. He teams up with former Iowa State recruit Zach Norvell (17.7 points and 39 percent from three) to create a duo as good as most any other in the country.

Three more Bulldogs score in double-figures, including Josh Perkins, one of the few holdovers from that 2017 NCAA runner-up team. Mark Few’s team is very, very, very good and, on paper, looks like the only team in the field capable of keeping up with Duke.

Illinois

Oh boy, this could make for an interesting matchup with the Cyclones.

Some of you might remember the drama surrounding Talen Horton-Tucker’s commitment to Iowa State last fall. I will give a brief cliff noted version below, but you can dive deeper into the story here. 

Alright, basically, THT reportedly tried to commit to the Illini following an official visit to Champaign last October. But, Brad Underwood’s program had already secured a commitment from Ayo Dosunmu, the top prospect in the state of Illinois, and a former AAU teammate of THT’s. Horton-Tucker had left that AAU team, Mac Irvin Fire, in favor of playing for Team Rose, a team he felt would better showcase his talent.

Obviously, the powers who be at Mac Irvin Fire, a group of people very influential in the Illinois basketball scene, were not pleased by THT’s decision. So, they essentially made it known the staff at Illinois needed to choose between Dosunmu or THT.

Again, that is the cliff noted version and it is reporting all built primarily on unnamed sources, but the rumors still exist and they’ve circulated as fact for a long time. That makes a possible THT and Dosunmu, who is averaging 21.5 points per game so far this season for the Illini, a very intriguing matchup.

If the Cyclones fall to Arizona, it is most likely the matchup we will see in Iowa State’s second game in Hawaii.

Duke

Hey, did you know Zion Williamson plays for Duke?

I’m sure you probably did if you’re a human being who has been on the internet in the last year or has watched sports television or just doesn’t live under a rock or inside of a cave in the Canadian wilderness. Speaking of the Canadian wilderness, that is exactly where I would be headed if I was a member of the Eastern Michigan basketball team after what Zion did to them earlier this week.

That human being — if we still define Zion as one of those, I’m not convinced — is 6-foot-7, 285-pounds and his hands are above the square. They had to throw that oop so high it looked like it was going to go over the top of the backboard.

Duke is the overwhelming favorite in this field and it, frankly, is not even close. There is a reason some people have started comparing them to the 2015 Kentucky team that advanced all the way to the Final Four before losing their first game.

Williamson, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish, all three of which are freshmen, are currently slated as the top-three picks in the 2019 NBA Draft by NBADraft.net. Not just slated to be picked or be in the lottery, THEY ARE THE TOP THREE PICKS IN THE DRAFT.

This team is going to be stupid good unless someone gets hurt. And, as I already said, Zion is probably not even a real human being so I can’t imagine he has ever been injured in his entire life. He probably hasn’t even gotten a hangnail or anything.

Why do some people get all of the cool toys and why does that some person always have to be Coach K?

Auburn

Am I the only person who forgets Auburn basketball is good now until I look at rankings and see them in the top-10? I mean, I know Bruce Pearl is a good coach but the idea of this team being one of the best in the country entering the year slipped my mind completely.

The Tigers have six players averaging in double-figures with Samir Doughty and Jared Harper both averaging a cool 15.0 points per game. This has to be the most undercover top-10 team because I feel like you literally never hear anything about them.

They’re the team in this field that makes you say, “Oh, crap, I forgot Auburn was even going to be here.” I’m deep in that mode right now and now I’m mad at myself for not knowing more about them.

But, in my defense, I’m willing to bet not that many people know much about them either!

Xavier

No more Chris Mack. No more Trevon Bluiett. No more JP “Sleeves” Macura.

Those are the most important things to know about Xavier. It is basically an entirely new team from the group that secured a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and advanced to the dance’s second round.

Naji Marshall and Quinton Goodin are both back from last year’s rotation in much bigger roles. Marshall leads the team with 14.3 points and 8.3 rebounds per game.

The Musketeers certainly have a good enough program to flourish in the post-Mack era, but this feels like a bridge year for Travis Steele’s program, especially after they lost to Wisconsin earlier this week.

San Diego State

I bet I could convince you Steve Fisher still coaches the Aztecs if I wanted to, but I’m nice and I’m not going to mislead you. It is actually Fischer’s longtime right-hand man Brian Dutcher who has taken over the program Fischer turned into a perennial mid-major power.

The Aztecs smashed Texas Southern to the tune of 103-64, bringing the Tigers’ run of butt-kickings at the hand of teams in the Maui field to an end.

Devin Watson is the team’s leading scorer at 17 points per game and averages a team-high 5.5 assists per game. Matt Mitchell averages 15.5 points per game while three others are in double-figures.

Jared Stansbury

administrator

Jared a native of Clarinda, Iowa, started as the Cyclone Fanatic intern in August 2013, primarily working as a videographer until starting on the women’s basketball beat prior to the 2014-15 season. Upon earning his Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from Iowa State in May 2016, Jared was hired as the site’s full-time staff writer, taking over as the primary day-to-day reporter on football and men’s basketball. He was elevated to the position of managing editor in January 2020. He is a regular contributor on 1460 KXNO in Des Moines and makes regular guest appearances on radio stations across the Midwest. Jared resides in Ankeny with his four-year-old puggle, Lolo.