Maui tournament field loaded

Monday, November 21, 2011

— Working as master of ceremonies at the Sunday-morning news conference featuring the eight 2011 EA Sports Maui Invitational coaches, ESPN analyst Jay Bilas poked a little fun at his former coach and current employer.

“He set an all-time wins record,” Bilas said in introducing 32nd-year Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. “I don’t know if anybody saw that. There was a little bit of coverage on it. We actually changed our call letters on ESPN to KSPN during that period.”

By the time the Maui Invitational that gets under way today concludes, Kansas University and Duke will play on the same court the same day four times in a span of nine days, first at Madison Square Garden in New York City. But unless both schools reach the final of the eight-team, three-day tournament, they won’t face each other.

Krzyzewski enters the tournament with 903 career victories, one more than his college coach at West Point, Bob Knight.

A dozen of those victories have come in the Maui tournament, in which Coach K never has lost.

“He’s been extremely successful here, but every year’s different,” said former Wake Forest coach Dave Odom, the Maui Invitational tournament director. “If he keeps coming, he’s going to get beat. It will be fun to see everybody compete and try to be the first to beat him here.”

Except for the coach whose team faces Duke that day, nobody will be thinking about beating the Blue Devils. November basketball is very much about not beating yourself, even with a field as strong as this year’s.

Other than host school, Div. II Chaminade University, every Maui tourney entry played in the NCAA Div. I basketball tournament last March. Five of the schools — Duke, Georgetown, Kansas, Michigan and UCLA — have won national titles. Memphis and Tennessee round out the field.

Krzyzewski has won four national titles, putting him in a tie for second with former Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp, six behind UCLA’s John Wooden.

“Call it like it is,” KU coach Bill Self said of Krzyzewski. “He’s won more games than anybody. He’s the pillar of our profession. He’s the best our spot has ever had to offer, but he’s also had some really good players. And you don’t come over here against the quality of competition four times and go 12-0, and of course he’ll be the odds-on-favorite again this year to win it (without good players). But I don’t think you come over here to feel like you have to do something. I think you come over here trying to figure out where your team is and to get better.”

Duke is the favorite to get Wednesday night’s title game from the top of the bracket, Kansas from the bottom of the bracket.

Krzyzewski sounded a similar sentiment to Self and the rest of the coaches in talking about what they hope to get out of the tournament.

“We have a younger team and we’re still learning about ourselves, and this tournament, hopefully, will help us in our progress to being a really good team,” Krzyzewski said.

Said UCLA coach Ben Howland: “There’s so much talent here. There are so many good players from each of these teams. This is always the best tournament in the country this time of year and the competition is fierce.”

Before Self or his players can afford to concern themselves with Duke, they must defeat Georgetown tonight. If they succeed, they then face the winner of the UCLA-Chaminade game.

“Games in November are important, but they pale in comparison to games in January and February,” Self said. “We don’t know who our team is. I told my guys our goal this week is to become a team. And you always have to go through some crap to become a team. It’s probably too early in the season to do that, but we can take a big step.”

Or in some cases, a big stumble.

“We came out here six years ago with the team that won the national championship two years later and couldn’t get the ball past half-court and finished seventh,” Self said, “but we learned a lot and found out about ourselves.”