Maui Invitational preview: A stacked field means opportunity

The Bears are pumped for their opportunity on the islands - Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Can the Bears make a name for themselves in their first chance to impress on a national stage?

So far this season, Cal has looked every bit like the contender fans were expecting to see. But there's one issue at the moment. Coppin State, Denver, Oakland and Southern Utah have a combined record of 1-10 against Division 1 competition. Granted, four of those losses came to Cal, but still. Cal has played four home games against iffy-to-bad opponents.

That all changes on Monday. The six teams going to Maui (excluding Chaminade for obvious reasons) are a combined 20-0 to start the season. This is the best, deepest field of teams in any pre-season invitational tournament. And that means that there is opportunity.

If the Bears were to play great basketball and fly back to Berkeley with three wins they would immediately gain legitimacy as a conference title contender, likely with the computer numbers to justify a potentially excellent seed come March Madness. The Maui Invitational doesn't have fluke winners. In the last decade, every single champion made the NCAA tournament, with an average seed of 3.7. Of those ten, four eventually made the Final Four and two were national champions. This is about as big time November college basketball can get.

Are you into computer numbers? The five best teams in the field (Gonzaga, Syracuse, Baylor, Minnesota and Cal) are all in the Kenpom top 30, and all expect to be dancing in March. Are you into the polls? The 'Zags, the 'Cuse, and the . . . the 'Lors? I guess? They're all in the top 25 while Cal and Minnesota are receiving votes.

The biggest key for Cal? Beat Arkansas. If Cal can do that, they will move to the winner's side of the bracket and virtually guarantee two more high value RPI games with the opportunity to impress those dastardly computers. Lose to Arkansas, and the Bears will get relegated to the loser's bracket, where they will still have to face an excellent Minnesota or Syracuse team, then run the risk of ending their time in Maui against Chaminade. Two D1 losses and a scrimmage against a lower division team would leave Cal fans plenty depressed.

So, what are Cal's chances? Kenpom ran the numbers:

Semis

Final

Champ

Gonzaga

80.5

54.6

31.7

Baylor

94.5

41.0

19.3

Minnesota

54.7

33.3

18.4

California

69.6

30.5

13.8

Syracuse

45.3

25.5

13.0

Arkansas

30.4

8.1

2.1

Dayton

19.5

6.8

1.7

Chaminade

5.5

0.2

0.01

Gonzaga and Baylor are the favorites to win the title, in part because they are both very good teams, but also in part because they have weaker teams in Dayton and Chaminade on their side of the bracket. On the other side? Three very good teams and one solid team in Arkansas.

That 13.8% for Cal under 'champions' might seem low, but the Bears have a better than 1/4 chance of making the finals and better than a 1/8 chance of winning it all. In a field this stacked, and on the tougher side of the bracket, I'll take those odds.

The likeliest result? A win over Arkansas, a loss to Minnesota or Syracuse, and then a tough game against the loser of the presumed Baylor/Gonzaga semi-final. But like I said above, if Cal can beat the Razorbacks they will have two shots to beat a top 25 caliber opponent. If Cal comes home with a 2-1 record and they don't have to play Chaminade it will have been a very successful trip. I'm very much looking forward to this team taking on that challenge.

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join California Golden Blogs

You must be a member of California Golden Blogs to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at California Golden Blogs. You should read them.

Join California Golden Blogs

You must be a member of California Golden Blogs to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at California Golden Blogs. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.

tracking_pixel_9341_tracker