The octad of teams announced for the 2018 Maui Invitational is so good, organizers are calling it "as strong as we've ever had."
Yeah, we're more than two years out, but here's the roster: Arizona, Auburn, Duke, Gonzaga, Illinois, Iowa State, San Diego State and Xavier. Considering Duke is Duke, Arizona is arguably a top-five program now, Gonzaga hasn't missed an NCAA Tournament since the 1990s, San Diego State is one of the top programs west of the Rockies, Xavier has never been better, Iowa State has been nationally relevant for more than five years going, and Illinois and Auburn are on pace to be fairly good in two years ... considering all that?
Yeah, that's a really good get for 2018.
Duke, which has the most Maui titles ever (five) has never lost when playing in Maui. It might meet Arizona (two Maui titles) in the title game. Gonzaga won the event in '09. Illinois beat the field in 2012. Iowa State hasn't been in this shebang since 1990! SDSU's invite is its fourth. It's Xavier and Auburn's first trip to Lahaina. Should be great.
But notice something missing? Yep: Chaminade. The Division II team that hosts the tourney every year will not be participating come 2018. Instead, Chaminade will fly to the continental United States to play in the "opening round games." This means the 2018 Maui field will be the first time in the event's history that eight D-I teams are playing in the tourney. As always, the Maui-based Lahaina Civic Center will keep hosting the event.
Don't worry, Chaminade isn't out entirely. The organizers have decided to have Chaminade play in Maui with the big boys in odd-numbered years. The Silverswords will play at Lahaina in 2017, 2019, 2021 and so on, while it takes a trip over to the mainland in 2018, 2020, 2022, etc.
A nice balance. There's a charm -- and threat; Chaminade wins a game over a D-I team every blue moon, most notably its sport-shocking upset over No. 1 Virginia in 1982 -- to having the Silverswords share a court with such important programs.