Pitt Basketball: How Will Panthers Fare In 2014 Maui Invitational?


Jamie Dixon’s Pitt Panthers, coming off a disappointing 74-70 loss to the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, will look to quickly rebound in Maui for the 2014 Invitational.

The Panthers are matched up against the host Chaminade Silverswords, who come into the tourney with a 2-0 record, defeating Regis University and Saint Katherine College.  Pitt will certainly provide a tougher test for the Division II host.

Chaminade is always included in the field, and they pulled off a historical upset in 1982, beating Ralph Sampson’s Virginia team. Pitt will have the pressure to not fall victim to a huge early season upset.

Pitt, who was criticized last season for a weak non-conference slate, will be looking for at least one key win in this tourney, so Chaminade should be an easy test prior to potential matchups with San Diego State, BYU and Arizona.

I don’t see Chaminade matching up well with the Panthers, who are too athletic at the D1 level. However, Pitt needs to be cautious about overlooking this team, as anything can happen.

Prediction: Pitt 82, Chaminade 64

If Pitt does knock off Chaminade, the Panthers will meet the winner of BYU and No. 16 San Diego State Aztecs. This matchup used to be a Mountain West showdown, but BYU switched to the West Coast Conference. Both schools are usually in the NCAA Tournament, as BYU was a 10-seed and San Diego State was a 4-seed that fell to Arizona in the Sweet 16.

The Aztecs (3-0) have held opponents to under 60 points per game (58, 49, 27), and Steve Fisher’s squad will be tough to beat.  The BYU Cougars (3-0) have a contrasting style, scoring over 90 points in each of its three games. I believe the tough-nosed Aztecs will frustrate BYU, as San Diego State will advance. Nonetheless, these two squads are both great non-conference opponents for Pitt.

Prediction: San Diego State 70, BYU 65

On the other side of the Maui bracket, Big Ten Purdue plays Big 12 Kansas State. The Purdue Boilermakers have been down in recent years, and they will be looking for some momentum for the year.  They come into the tourney with a 3-0 record, essentially blowing out their first three cupcake opponents.

Kansas State (2-1) made the NCAA tournament last year, but they will be entering the tournament coming off a disappointing upset loss (similar to Pitt) at Long Beach State. Because of recent success, I give the nod to Kansas State in this matchup.

Prediction: Kansas State 69, Purdue 60

In the other matchup, Sean Miller’s powerhouse No. 2 Arizona Wildcats (3-0) face off against SEC Missouri. PAC-12 Arizona is a top-five team and Final Four contender who has blown out its first three opponents, while Missouri (2-1) has a new coach in Kim Anderson, replacing Frank Haith.

Mizzou lost its first game to the UMKC Kangaroos, but has rebounded with wins against Valparaiso and Oral Roberts. Arizona is too talented, athletic, and strong for Mizzou, and I cannot see an upset here.

Prediction: Arizona 80, Missouri 64

If my first round predictions hold true, Pitt will then square off against San Diego State.  Pitt’s last game versus Hawaii showed some defensive struggles and scoring droughts. In order for Pitt to pull off an upset here, they cannot afford to go on a scoring drought against a stout, defensive team.

I think we will see a much more focused, determined Pitt team in this matchup, as the Panthers want a key non-conference win on its resume. I think sophomore forward Michael Young and guard/forward Jamel Artis will be the key in this battle. A young Pitt team will grow before our own eyes in Maui.

Semifinal Prediction: Pitt 64, San Diego State 61.

In the other game, Kansas State will go up against the almighty Arizona Wildcats. Like I said in Arizona’s first game, I also cannot see Kansas State beating them either. Over time, the Wildcats will just wear you out.

Arizona has all of the elements needed to win a tournament, and Maui looks to be a showcase of what is to come. Senior point guard T.J. McConnell, a local WPIAL product, leads this machine and feeds the ball to playmakers Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (16 ppg), Brandon Ashley (15 ppg), and Stanley Johnson (12 ppg).

Semifinal Prediction: Arizona 70, Kansas State 56.

Moving onto the Maui Championship Game, I predict (and hope) Pitt will meet up with Arizona. Jamie Dixon versus former Pitt player Sean Miller adds for some added drama before the tip is even underway. Also, I’ve expressed multiple times that Pitt needs to face better nonconference opponents in order to succeed in March Madness.

This game is a huge test, and at this point, I don’t see the Panthers beating Arizona. I envision a similar, frustrating game like Pitt vs. Florida in the NCAA Third Round last season. I would chalk this up as a great learning experience that will only make Pitt a better team moving forward.

Championship Prediction: Arizona 68, Pitt 54.