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November 21, 2010

MAUI: Experience critical in challenging event

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LAHAINA, Maui - Tom Izzo buried his head in his hands, softly shaking it side to side. Fellow legendary coach Jim Calhoun had just dropped the dreaded favorite label on Izzo's Michigan State squad and all the longtime coach could do was smile and take it.

Such is life for the most experienced, deepest team in the 2010 Maui Invitational. For the rest of the squads, including Kentucky, the three-day event on Hawaii's 'Valley Island' serves as a litmus test for what they are and what they could become this season.

"One of the great things about Maui is you find out what basketball is going to be like at a major level for a young team," Calhoun, Connecticut's longtime coach, said. "It's a great experience early in the season because you play against the kind of teams you hopefully see later in the NCAA Tournament. If things don't go well you have to come back the next day and win a game."

The event features six quality programs from major conferences, as well as an up-and-coming Wichita State team. In the span of 72 hours each of those squads will be served a healthy dose of knowledge about their team, which is exactly why the Maui Invitational has become the preseason college basketball tournament over the past decade.

"This is a great tournament," Kentucky coach Calipari said. "This is a great experience to find out what we really are and see if we have some players who when they're up against it can play. The holes that we have will be exploited by these gentlemen and that's why you go to a tournament like this. What do we have to work for to be competitive?"

"I've always believed in a tougher non-conference schedule and you get more prepared for what you'll get in the future," Izzo added. "That's what this tournament does for you."

Kentucky comes in as arguably the youngest team (Oklahoma could give the Cats a run for their money in that area), which means Calipari is bound and determined to see what his inexperienced club can do under unique conditions. The Cats already survived a dangerous opener to the road trip, blowing out capable mid-major Portland on its home turf before jetting to the island.

While fans won't want to hear it, Calipari said the trip is about more than winning and losing.

"Obviously, you want to win every game but this thing here is, 'Let's learn about our team,'" Calipari said. "They will see your weakness and exploit them. We will know what those are by the time we leave and figure out how to close the gap.

"If I've got a veteran team this is a great tournament to be but if you've got a young team it's hard. I don't know what we'll look like. You're going to learn and does it knock you for a loop. We're not going 0-4 now, but my fear is we go 1-3."


KENTUCKY vs. OKLAHOMA
When: 5:30 p.m. eastern (12:30 local); Monday, Nov. 22
Where: Lahaina Civic Center; Maui, Hawaii
TV: ESPN2; Radio: Big Blue Radio Network
Last Meeting: Mar. 1, 1987 - @Kentucky 75, Oklahoma 74


Matt May is the basketball beat reporter for The Cats' Pause. If you have questions or comments about the Cats e-mail him here. You can also follow "@TCPMAY" on Twitter for live updates.


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