Lahaina, Hawaii — The grind of playing three games in three days at the Maui Invitational seems to be of little concern to most of the players here this week.
Whether it’s because it reminds them of their AAU days, prepares them for the postseason or just makes the start of the season a lot more fun, none of the players and neither coach in Tuesday’s semifinal between No. 4 Kansas and BYU at Lahaina Civic Center seemed at all frustrated by having less than 24 hours to prepare for their matchup.
“I think effort and passion take precedent over scouting report,” KU coach Bill Self said before KU's 71-56 win. “I really do. Even though we’ll scout and do all those things, usually if you’re turned up you can overcome mistakes and those sorts of things.”
First-year BYU coach Mark Pope, who played his college ball at both Washington and Kentucky before enjoying a six-year NBA career, said the biggest key to powering through the limited prep time was to embrace it.
“There’s something nice about this, where it’s just, ‘Hey, we’ve got to go be us really, really, really well,’” Pope told the Journal-World. “It helps us get out of our own way because we don’t have enough time to really screw up our stuff. Along those same lines, sometimes when you sit down and you carefully craft something that’s not really authentically who you are because you think it’s going to be the best way to beat a team, it actually is detrimental.”
That’s where the basics kick in.
The benefit of ball movement, defense, making the extra pass to set up a teammate and diving on the floor for loose balls translates to any opponent in any environment.
So in that way, the Jayhawks and Cougars, along with the six other teams playing three games in three days on both sides of the bracket, approached Round 2 with the most basic basketball principles at the top of their to-do lists.
“When we have great energy on both ends of the floor we're really good,” said BYU guard TJ Haws. “That helps us block out, it helps us get rebounds, we’re moving fast and we’re playing with pace and force and that really helps us. So it can be a challenge to play three games in three days, especially against great opponents, but I feel like if we can come out and have great energy to start this game and play for 40 minutes we’re going to have a great chance.”
With Self and the Jayhawks having the luxury of facing Division II host school Chaminade in Round 1, they could afford to spend a little more time looking ahead to Round 2.
Pope did not.
“I saw the first 10 minutes of the (KU-Chaminade) game,” he said Monday night. “But that was about it. My staff scouted ahead of everybody so they had a (scouting report) prepared. But I spent zero time (on Kansas before coming to Maui).”
The idea of scouting ahead is nothing new and is something the Jayhawks and countless other Division I coaching staffs do an on annual basis. But its benefits can really pay off in an environment like Maui.
That’s even more true at this event than in a setting like the postseason conference tournaments because, by then, conference foes have faced each other at least once — often times twice — and have a season’s worth of film to scout while preparing their game plans.
The Maui Invitational takes place during Week 3 of a new season and a lot of teams have yet to pinpoint their identity and discover how to best utilize their rosters.
That’s where the experience of the head coach can come into play.
This year’s trip to Maui is Self’s fifth during a 27-year career. He guided his first Illinois team to a runner-up finish in 2000 and came to the islands of Hawaii with Kansas in 2005 (seventh), 2011 (second) and 2015 (first) before returning this week.
So how does the experience and wisdom gained from those trips help when he returns?
“I don’t really know that it (does),” Self said. “I think it’s valuable that your players actually listen to your coach and you say, ‘OK, this is what you need to be doing, or this is how you rest or this is how you handle locker rooms,’ because that experience will maybe help a little bit.”
But Self would give up all of that in exchange for the guarantee that his team would give all-out effort from the opening tip to the final horn for three consecutive days.
“When you don’t really know the other team and their personnel and you probably aren’t going to know them as well as they know you, then the one thing that’ll level it out is pressure,” Self said. “So that’s what we told our guys, just pressure.”
In order to do that or survive it, the Jayhawks and the rest of the teams here this week made sure to get plenty of rest and emphasize proper nutrition.
“First and foremost, we have to take care of our bodies,” BYU senior Jake Toolson said. “It’s three games in three days, so it’s a fight. … And we’re just going to attack this opportunity to really prepare us for (the rest of the season).”
UCLA coach Mick Cronin, whose team lost to BYU in the late game in Round 1 and knocked off Chaminade in Round 2 in a game that tipped off just 15 hours later, said coaches and players can study it and prepare until their eyes grow weary from staring at a screen and their hands cramp from taking notes.
“At some point you’ve got to have some pride and character,” said Cronin of surviving the three-day grind, win or lose. “It’s about fortitude.”
Added Pope: “Whether you have two weeks to prepare for a team or you have 22 hours, you still have to go play. … We’re not a team that can give a bunch of different looks. We kind of have to be who we are, and I don’t know that two or three more days to prepare would really help us out that much besides resting our bodies.”