By: Chris Bendel – Asst. Sports Editor
In the previous 10 editions of the EA SPORTS Maui Invitational Tournament, seven programs have claimed the prestigious, early-season championship since 2003, held annually at the end of November on Hawaii’s second largest island.
Among those programs are the University of Illinois, Duke University, the University of Connecticut and the University of North Carolina. These college basketball powerhouses have won five out of the last 10 NCAA basketball championships.
The University of Dayton is also in the mix.
Dayton won the Maui Invitational in 2003, beating Central Michigan University and San Diego State University to advance to the championship against the University of Hawaii. An 82-72 victory over the Rainbow Warriors in the finals cemented Dayton’s place in the Maui record book alongside some of the most powerful and storied programs in college basketball.
Overall, the Flyers have compiled a 5-1 tournament record in Maui, with the team’s first appearance in 2000, when UD went 2-1 and placed third. In that year, they defeated then No. 12 Connecticut and No. 6 University of Maryland teams, while only falling to a No. 1 University of Arizona squad who went on to win the tournament.
Ten years later, the Flyers hope to regain the championship, when they participate in the 2013 edition of the Maui Invitational Monday, Nov. 25 through Wednesday, Nov. 27.
With a consolation side of the bracket, the tournament guarantees each participant three games.
Redshirt senior guard and team captain Vee Sanford understands the nationally televised tournament could help put Dayton on the college basketball map. ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU will televise all 12 tournament games.
“We can make a big point,” Sanford said. “We’re just going to have to show the other teams that we belong there. We’re just going to go out there and compete.”
UD will face Gonzaga Monday in its opening game of the championship round. Dayton defeated St. Francis College in its mainland opener 78-58 Saturday, Nov. 16, at UD Arena.
Local tip time in Hawaii is 7 p.m., which puts the start time for local UD fans at midnight ET. The game will be nationally televised on ESPN2.
Gonzaga, a perennial mid-major contender at NCAA tournament time and the 2009 Maui champions, currently sits at No. 13 in the latest Associated Press top 25 poll.
The winner between tournament host Chaminade University and Baylor University will await the victor of the UD-Gonzaga game in the following round. The two teams that lose each matchup will also face one another. A potential matchup with another top-25 team for UD could be awaiting, as Baylor checks in at No. 20 in the AP poll.
Syracuse University rounds out the nationally-ranked teams in the tournament, sitting at No. 9.
Syracuse is on the opposite side of the bracket from Dayton, meaning the Flyers only have a chance to meet the top-10 team in a third-day matchup.
The remainder of the eight-team tournament field features the University of Arkansas, the University of California-
Berkeley and the University of Minnesota.
Senior forward Devin Oliver said the team embraces “the opportunity to play some really good competition…to be able to play on the highest stage.”
For UD’s players, traveling to Hawaii will provide an unforgettable experience in itself.
Oliver said he doesn’t know what activities the coaches and tournament directors have planned off the court.
“We’re more focused on practice, but if we get a chance to walk around a little bit, that’d be nice,” Oliver said with a smile.
The average November temperature in the Maui area is a balmy 84 degrees, according to the tournament website, but the team heads to Maui seeking elite competition and a championship rather than the pristine beaches the area offers tourists.
“It’s a business trip,” Sanford said. “We have to take care of business… we’ve got a lot to prove and we’re just looking forward to getting out there and making a point.”
The Maui tournament field will provide UD with an opportunity to showcase its brand of basketball on a national stage against top 25 programs, and again take home a Maui crown.
Oliver said he believes this is a challenge the team can handle.
“We’re ready to play at the highest level,” he said.
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