One of the most highly-anticipated fields for a non-conference tournament ever assembled now has a bracket. The Maui Invitational finally released their bracket on Tuesday morning for the 2018 version of the tournament and it’s stocked full of terrific matchups.
Auburn will play Xavier in the first game of the tournament (1:30 Auburn time) and 9:30 a.m. Hawaiian time on Monday, November 19. The next day, they will take on either Duke or San Diego State. (Personally, I would love nothing more than an Auburn-Duke matchup). The other side of the bracket features Arizona vs. Iowa State and Gonzaga vs. Illinois. Auburn will play one of those 4 teams on Wednesday, November 21.
Auburn recently played Xavier in a home-and-home series in Bruce Pearl’s first 2 seasons at Auburn with each team winning at home. The Musketeers, out of the Big East, will be breaking in a new coach in Travis Steele as former coach Chris Mack took the Louisville job this past offseason. Last season, Xavier earned a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but were upset in the 2nd Round by Florida State. This could be a transition year for them as in addition to losing their coach, they lose their top 3 scorers from last year’s team. Having said that, Xavier always puts a good team on the floor so this will be a great first game for the Tigers.
Then of course, there’s the potential the Tigers see Duke in the second game. That game would feature at least five guys that have a good chance of being drafted in the 1st Round of next year’s NBA Draft. Auburn and Duke have not meet on the basketball court since December 30, 1981 (Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s 2nd year with Duke) and the Blue Devils have won all 3 meetings against Auburn all-time.
The other side of the bracket features Gonzaga who could be the best team in the country next year, especially on the west coast. Arizona, Illinois, and Iowa State are in some semblances of rebuilding mode so to me, Auburn’s on the tougher side of the bracket here. It’s a fantastic opportunity to see what kind of team Auburn will have this year playing teams of this caliber early in the season. Auburn will also play a 4th game against a team not in the bracket at Auburn Arena prior to traveling to Maui. Regardless, this is going to be an exciting 3 days of college basketball during the week of Thanksgiving. War Eagle!