There won’t be any luaus, grass skirts or surfing for the University of Memphis during its trip to Maui, Hawaii for this year’s Maui Invitational.
As the No. 10 Tigers prepare to face off against No. 17 Michigan on Monday in the first round of the tournament, Memphis coach Josh Pastner has reiterated time and time again that this is everything but a leisure trip. His message: Leave the flower leis back at the hotel.
“Maui is a beautiful place. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world. (But) we are (here) to have a business trip, those are the facts of it,” Pastner said. “It is a business trip. We are there to do a job.”
The Tigers opened their season last Tuesday with a convincing 97-81 win against Belmont in the opening game of the Maui. Memphis stymied Belmont into 38 percent shooting from the field but was forced to play small ball for the majority of the game, as big men Tarik Black and Stan Simpson got into foul trouble in the early goings.
As a result, the Tigers were out-rebounded 39-27 by the Bruins — a deficit Pastner and his team can ill afford against the Wolverines.
Led by skilled sophomore Tim Hardaway Jr., Michigan is a team built with adept shooters. Rather than engage the Tigers in a full-on track meet, the Wolverines will look to slow the game’s tempo and force Memphis into a half-court game by employing the 1-3-1 zone defense.
“It’s going to be kind of a grind-out game,” Pastner said. “Of course, we’d like to score in the hundreds, but Michigan’s got good players. You can’t give them any open shots. They’re a big-time shooting team. They’ve got a good team and you don’t get that kind of ranking without being really good.”
In Belmont, the Tigers faced an opponent that ran an offense similar to their own, and they took advantage. Most of their baskets came in transition, and sophomore point guard Joe Jackson had one of the best games of his career, scoring 20 points and handing out seven assists.
For the Tigers (1-0), dictating the flow of the game against Michigan will be paramount to a positive outcome, Jackson said.
“That’s what we practice, pushing the ball and playing fast,” Jackson said. “We just gotta push it and get rebounds. The biggest thing is for our guards to rebound the ball and pushing it on our own, instead of the bigs having to give it to us and get back.”
The Maui tournament represents an interesting challenge for any team in the field. Win or lose, each team plays three games in three days and almost every matchup could be potential NCAA tournament game.
If the Tigers get by Michigan, they would most likely face No. 6 Duke, a rematch from the 2005 NIT Preseason Tournament, in which the Blue Devils staved off the Tigers, 70-67.
Pastner said he’s stressed to his team that this week’s tournament isn’t the be-all, end-all to the Tigers’ season, as Memphis’ remaining non-conference schedule is more difficult than it’s been in the previous years under Pastner.
“Whether we win the Maui or (not), we still have to play games,” Pastner said. “And we have a tough schedule. There is no easy night, so w’ell have to be ready every time we step on the floor.”
While it is Memphis’ first trip to Maui since 2006, when they finished third in the field, the Tigers did participate in athletic competition on an island last year.
The NCAA allows a university an international trip every four years, and the Tigers utilized the opportunity to go to the Bahamas in the preseason of 2010.
The Tigers participated in two exhibition games, and while their competition was markedly inferior to the teams within the Maui field, the experience should serve as a benefit for Memphis as it prepares to play three games in three days.
“Our guys know what’s at stake,” Pastner said. “Last year’s team, it might be a new thing. Our guys understand what’s at stake and that’s my whole thing. If you wanna take a vacation, you can do it on your own time. That includes all of us, from me on down. I’m not in a vacation mood.”