A surprise pairing will meet for the Maui
Invitational title on Wednesday night while the pre-tourney favorites are
relegated to action in the consolation bracket. Can Butler continue its run or will Illinois bring the hardware
home for the holidays? Check out our
preview and pick.
We're used to seeing Butler
take down a top-ranked marquee program. Still, it's shocking when anyone runs roughshod over North Carolina in the manner the Bulldogs
did Tuesday, wiping the Tar Heels out of a shot at the Maui Invitational crown.
Instead of an ACC-Big 12 matchup for the championship as the
odds suggested before the tournament got underway, it will be A-10 vs. Big Ten
when Butler tangles with Illinois for the title. The Bulldogs find their way into the finals
after a buzzer-beater on Monday followed by their 82-71 thrashing of the Heels
Illinois reaches the decisive battle after beating Southern
Cal in the opener and tourney host Chaminade on Tuesday, 84-61. While the sponsors didn't get the North
Carolina-Texas clash for the championship, Chaminade is certainly enjoying the
opportunity to take on the big boys. The
Silverswords shocked the Longhorns in Round 1, and will now get to try their
luck against the Tar Heels in the 3rd-4th place consolation on Wednesday.
Opening odds had Illinois
-1.5 with a 133.5 point total.
North Carolina gets part of
the blame for the loss to Butler. The Tar Heels came out a bit cold, missing 10
of their first 14 field goal attempts, and were particularly sloppy for several
minutes in the middle of the first half. But more credit for the victory goes to Butler than blame goes to UNC. The Bulldogs made their 3-pointers count
(12-for-25) and took advantage of Carolina's
first half sloppiness. Butler also sank all six of their first-half
free throws while UNC never made it to the line until the 13:13 mark of the
Illinois has definitely
enjoyed a softer run into the title game than Butler. Wins over the Trojans and D-II Silverswords won't look near as big next
March as the resume that the Bulldogs have built so far against Marquette and
UNC. John Groce, eager to impress in his
first season at the helm in Champaign, understands that and should have his
squad prepared mentally as if they were going to meet North Carolina instead of
The key for Illinois
will be denying the Bulldogs' Rotnei Clarke and Kellen Dunham clean looks from
long-range. That pair shot 9-of-15 from
beyond the arc in the upset of the Tar Heels, and the defensive task will fall
on seniors DJ Richardson and Brandon Paul for the Illini.
pick: Over 133.5 at BetOnline