The independent news organization of Duke University

Duke men's basketball looks to continue recent dominance in Maui Invitational

<p>Jack White can add effective spacing to an already dominant Duke offense if he can make his long-range shots.</p>

Jack White can add effective spacing to an already dominant Duke offense if he can make his long-range shots.

The Lahaina Civic Center more closely resembles a high school arena than a site for a clash between Division I powerhouses.

Despite its unassuming nature, the 2,400-seat converted convention hall will house the annual Maui Invitational this week, an eight-team tournament featuring three schools in the top 10—No. 1 Duke, No. 3 Gonzaga and No. 9 Auburn.

The Maui Invitational will especially serve as the biggest stage of junior captain Jack White’s college career—his father’s presence in the crowd will mark the first time that a family member will see one of his games in person since he left his native Australia to play for the Blue Devils in 2016.

“It’s going to be special,” White said. “I’m really looking forward to the experience and playing hard. I’m just trying to get wins with my guys and it’s going to be cool knowing that he’s going to be in the crowd watching me after almost three years now of not seeing me live."

Duke (3-0) will compete in the tournament for the sixth time in its history. In every prior appearance, head coach Mike Krzyzewski led his squad to a championship, most recently with a 2011 team that knocked off then-No. 15 Michigan and then-No. 14 Kansas en route to a Maui Invitational title.

A potential slate of three games in three days, with two of the matchups against top-10 teams in Gonzaga and Auburn, will be a strong litmus test for the seemingly unstoppable Blue Devils. Duke is currently outscoring opponents by an average margin of 31.3 points, including a dominant 118-84 victory over then-No. 2 Kentucky.

Particularly, freshman sensation Zion Williamson will be scrutinized on a national level once again. The high-flying Williamson has quieted any doubters through three games with demigod-like play, with 25.3 points, 10.7 rebounds and three blocks per contest on an 82.1 percent conversion rate from the field. 

“More so than how high he jumps is his incredible body control, especially in a fast break where you would not think 'slither' is a word you would ever use with him and basically he does that, which is crazy,” Krzyzewski said.

Although in a less flashy manner, White is also impressing for the Blue Devils. A defensive maven known for a high basketball IQ, he is averaging 1.7 blocks and 1.3 steals per game and has yet to turn the ball over this season.

On Monday, White’s father will see him and Duke open play against San Diego State. Last season, the Aztecs (2-0) upset top-seeded Nevada en route to a Mountain West Conference title and an NCAA tournament bid, where they lost in a 67-65 heartbreaker to sixth-seeded Houston. 

San Diego State’s lineup features three returning starters from 2017-18—Devin Watson, Jalen McDaniels and Matt Mitchell. Rounding out the starting five are Jeremy Hemsley, the sixth man on last year’s squad, and Jordan Schakel. 

Should the Blue Devils handle San Diego State, they will likely face Auburn. Following three mediocre seasons with Bruce Pearl at the helm, the Tigers surprisingly played their way into a No. 8 ranking last February before dropping six of their final 11 games. 

Despite the departure of leading scorer Mustapha Heron, Auburn is one of the deeper teams in the country, and three members of its starting five averaged 20 or more minutes for the Tigers last year.

One of the only teams with more returning talent than Auburn is Gonzaga, which Duke may play in the championship game of the Maui Invitational. Head coach Mark Few’s crew features the likes of Rui Hachimura, Zach Norvell Jr. and Josh Perkins, all contributors from a season ago. 

Due to an ankle injury, the Bulldogs will be without Killian Tillie, their leader in box plus/minus last year, and perhaps the most talented big man the Blue Devils would see in non-conference play.

Although the intensity of an early season tournament simulates that of postseason play, it is not necessarily a true indicator of a team’s full abilities.

“You learn but, because you’re playing three straight days, that’s never going to happen [again] during the season.” Krzyzewski said. “So success or failure there, has to be looked at a little bit closer, because its not done [other than the ACC tournament].”

Rounding out the field for the Maui Invitational are Xavier, Arizona, Illinois, and Iowa State. Duke will take on San Diego State at 5:00 p.m. Monday afternoon.


Share and discuss “Duke men's basketball looks to continue recent dominance in Maui Invitational” on social media.