Less than three months before Chris Webber's ill-fated timeout call in the 1993 NCAA title game cost his Michigan team the National Championship trophy at the hands of North Carolina, the Wolverines had actually beaten the Tar Heels in Honolulu. That game, decided by a Jalen Rose rebound buzzer beater, came in the semifinals of the Rainbow Classic, one of college basketball's preeminent early season tournaments of its time.
In that same season, just two island-skips southeast of O'ahu, Duke, the two-time defending National Champ, claimed top honor at the 1992 Maui Invitational, a classic that also included Memphis State and Santa Clara, and their stars Penny Hardaway and Steve Nash. While the Blue Devils and Tigers would suffer surprising early exits in the 1993 Big Dance, Nash would lead his Broncos to only the second 15/2 upset in tournament history when they took down heavy favorite Arizona in a game that will be remembered for the Canadian's six straight free throws in the last 30 seconds.
It seems like ever since the inception of these Pacific Island tournaments, one can expect to see those same teams playing in Hawaii in November and December still playing in late March.
So prestigious is the Maui Invitational, in fact, that four times its winner has gone on to win the National Championship later that season: Michigan in 1988-89, North Carolina twice in 2004-05 and 2008-09, and Connecticut in 2010-11.
While the Rainbow Classic eventually went down to four teams, losing much of its stature due to many different circumstances -- one of them being the NCAA's policy on exempted contests -- the Maui has stayed strong for 30 years, now under title sponsor EA Sports.
The Diamond Head Classic, started in 2009 by ESPN and hosted by the University of Hawai'i, has taken the place of the Rainbow Classic as Honolulu's top 8-team tournament and has already seen burgeoning success.
Butler won the DHC in 2010, just a few months before appearing for the second consecutive year in the National Championship game, behind tournament MVP Matt Howard.
Last year's Diamond Head champ Arizona advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2013, and this year, the 'Cats joins Iowa State, current champions of the Diamond Head Classic, in the 2014 edition of the Round of 16 which begins Thursday.
This year's Sweet 16 does not include current Maui champion, Syracuse, which was bounced in the Round of 32. But in a twist of irony, the team doing the bouncing was Dayton, who placed third in this year's Maui Invitational.
Unlike Michigan and UNC 21 years prior, the Flyers and the Orange never got their chance meeting in Hawai'i earlier in the season. Why? DU lost its semifinal game to Baylor, the Maui runner-up.
But if Hawaiian destiny holds up, Baylor and Dayton will face off in the Final Four in North Texas, with the Bears having also advanced to this year's Sweet 16.
It also appears like Maui Invitational participants Cal and Minnesota could both be in the NIT Final Four.
In fact, all eight teams that competed on the Valley Isle last November advanced to either the NCAA or NIT Tournament. Another great year for the Maui!
So who will cut down the nets next week in Dallas? I'm not about to make a pick -- given the current state of my bracket -- but don't be surprised if it's a team that started its season in Hawai'i!
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