We're just hours (okay, days) away from tipoff in Hawaii, and Maryland actually have a legitimate shot at winning the entire thing. Here's a quick overview of their competition; we'll go more in-depth as each game goes along (minus Chaminade). The bottom half of the bracket seems unusually loaded this year - it'll be a tough championship for whoever escapes the upper half.
Maryland's first round game as the de facto #1 seed in the tourney pits them against hosts and traditional upsetters, Chaminade. Everyone remembers that one time they faced a team from the ACC in this tourney, but they shouldn't prevent much of a problem. They might be the worst team Maryland plays this year.
So Far: No games played
Watch Out For: Joel Smith, last year's leading scorer and disco extraordinaire. His straight-outta-the-70s fro may distract Eric Hayes.
The favorite to play Maryland, Vandy could present a big-time problem for the Terps with their established size (skilled big man A.J. Ogilvy) and sweet-shooting freshman guard John Jenkins. This one will be tight, and would give Maryland a chance to test their young bigs against an established center.
So Far: An easy win over Libscomb and a 2-point nailbiter over St. Mary's to get to 2-0
Watch Out For: Jeffery Taylor, an athletic Swede with a penchant for big dunks and grabbing rebounds. Ogilvy and Jenkins have been disappointing in the first two games, and the onus has fallen on Taylor to get the points, which he's done - he leads the Commies (that's what I'm going to call them) with 19.5 points a game.
Two words: Lance. Stephenson. That's what this matchup will be about, even though Cincy has enough surrounding players to cause Maryland some trouble. Hopefully, Stephenson will be so concerned with beating Maryland that he takes the Bearcats out of the game with forced shots. Otherwise, they have the talent to make this interesting.
So Far: A close win over Prairie View A&M and a blowout of Toledo; they're 2-0
Watch Out For: Deonta Vaughn and Yancy Gates. Stephenson will get the talk, but senior PG Vaughn is the team leader, and super-talented Gates, a face-up four, can hurt opponents when he's focused in.
Well, Colorado did return four starters from last year, including stud SG Cory Higgins. Unfortunately for them, they're four starters from a team that had 9 wins. Still, more experienced usually means better, though probably not good enough to get all the way to the championship game. The lack of a dominating rebounding presence may hurt them, as it takes away from their ability to exploit Maryland's young bigs.
So Far: Three wins on the year, all showcasing an ability to score a lot of points against lesser opponents
Watch Out For: Dwight Thorne. Higgins is the star of the team and will score the points, but Thorne is the lone senior and a steady presence. He's very good from outside; whoever's manning him up will need to extend their defense.
If you didn't notice, Gonzaga took Michigan State to the wire a few days ago. These guys are plenty talented, and will probably be Maryland's opponent in the final. That's not a great sign, if you look at recent history: Maryland's played Gonzaga three times since 2000 and lost all three, including two blowouts - one of which came last year. The Zags lose star PG Jeremy Pargo, but return SG Matt Bouldin and consistent inside presence Robert Sacre. Without a doubt, this will be Maryland's toughest matchup.
So Far: Two blowout wins a close loss to the #2 team in the country; 2-1
Watch Out For: Steven Gray and Demetri Goodson. Gray is the #2 man for Gonzaga and another solid outside shooter. Goodson is replacing Pargo, and has been a little turnover prone so far this year. Vasquez should be able to outclass him at point.
Ah, a game against Sean Miller. Personally, I'd love to lay down the law on Miller for messing with our recruit (Terrell Stoglin), and I'm sure it'll be an interesting game for Stoglin, too. Senior PG Nic Wise is the leader of this team, and one of the few holdovers after the ugly Sean Miller transition. Big man Jamelle Horne is also back, and he's capable of putting up numbers close to double-doubles. Arizona has talent, but I wouldn't bet against Maryland if this is the championship game.
So Far: Two easy wins that might not've been as easy as they should've been
Watch Out For: Solomon Hill. The freshman SF moved over to a area of relative stability (no, really) from his originaly USC commitment late last year. A cerebral wing with everything but a jumper, he's second for the Wildcats in scoring.
It's supposed to be a building year for Wisconsin, but they aren't buying it. And really, there's no reason they should: these guys are the BC of college basketball. They simply find ways to always have a solid year and get an NCAA berth, no matter how bad they may seem. This year they have to deal with their star forward and a major starter leaving. They still have two guards back, Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon, who will be expected to shoulder a lot of the load. They're a big question mark right now, so I don't feel too comfortable taking a big stance on them one way or the other at the moment.
So Far: Two easy wins - though neither over 20 points - over bad but not terrible opponents.
Watch Out For: Jon Leuer. Bohannon and Hughes are the ones I mentioned, but it's Leuer - a long, lanky PF who would draw Maryland's big men out with his shooting ability - who's led the Baders in scoring and surprised everyone with his development.