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Maui Invitational preview: Michigan State, Kansas the favorites

Michigan State’s Kyle Ahrens handles the ball against Charleston Southern’s Sean Price at the Breslin Center on November 18, 2019 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)
Michigan State’s Kyle Ahrens handles the ball against Charleston Southern’s Sean Price at the Breslin Center on November 18, 2019 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)

Flyers play Georgia for first time since 1973 in first round

Obi Toppin couldn't believe how many fans followed the Dayton Flyers to the Bahamas last season for the Battle 4 Atlantis. The first UD game in a foreign country attracted as many fans as past tournaments in Charleston, S.C., Orlando and other sites.

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“It was ridiculous,” Toppin said. “It’s the Bahamas. It’s not like it’s going to Chicago or something. The fans were great out there. Hopefully, it’s the same when we get to Maui.”

It will be. Dayton fans are as consistent as the weather in Maui — there’s a high of 86 and a low of 73 on Monday for those fans traveling west. They won’t pass up the opportunity to see their team play in the nation’s premier exempt tournament even if the Maui Invitational is about four times as far away as the Battle 4 Atlantis.

The Flyers arrived in Maui on Friday and play Georgia in the first round at 2:30 p.m. Monday (ESPN2) at the Lahaina Civic Center.

“I’m super excited,” Toppin said. “I’ve never been to Maui or Hawaii. A lot of our players haven’t. The opportunity to go there is amazing. Definitely playing against the top competition that’s going to be there is going to be great also. It’s going to be a fun time, and we’re going to find out a lot about our team when we get there. I can’t wait for that.”

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Dayton is off to a 3-0 start, but its biggest challenges await in Maui. Here’s a rundown of the eight-team field:

Favorite: Michigan State (3-1) ranks third in the Associated Press poll and first in the Ken Pomeroy ratings. It has lost only to No. 9 Kentucky (69-62 in its season opener on Nov. 5). The Spartans beat No. 13 Seton Hall 76-73 on Nov. 14.

Biggest underdog: Chaminade University, a Division II program, used to play in the tournament every season but now plays in it every other year. In its last appearance two years ago, it lost to Notre Dame and Michigan by a combined 65 points before beating California 96-72. That was the first victory for the Silverswords in the tournament since 2012 when they upset Texas 86-73 in the first round.

Best player: Michigan State senior guard Cassius Winson was a consensus selection on The Associated Press preseason All-America team. He averaged 17.5 points and 6.8 assists in the first four games and has played in three games since the death of his brother, Zachary, an Albion College basketball player who was hit by an Amtrak train Nov. 9.

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Winston gave his first public comments since his brother’s death over the public-address system at Michigan State’s Breslin Center following a 94-46 victory against Charleston Southern on Monday.

“I lost a piece of my heart, but you guys are keeping me going,” Winston said. “I love everything about this place.”

Top freshman: Georgia's Anthony Edwards, a 6-foot-5 guard, ranked first in the 2019 class, according to 247Sports.com. Rivals.com rated him third, while ESPN.com had him fourth. Edwards averaged 19.3 points in Georgia's first four games.

Winningest coach: The field includes two of the 15 winningest active coaches in college basketball. Bill Self, of Kansas, leads Michigan State's Tom Izzo 682-609. Self ranked eighth in Division I entering the season, and Izzo was 15th.

Best first-round game: The first game Monday matches Dayton and Georgia (4-0), which as of Thursday were separated by eight spots in the Pomeroy ratings. Dayton ranked 53rd. Georgia ranked 61st. The programs are connected in a way because Anthony Grant got the job at Dayton when Indiana fired Tom Crean in March 2017 and hired Dayton's Archie Miller. Georgia hired Crean a year later.

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Dayton has yet to play a team ranked in the top 150 of the Pomeroy ratings. Georgia picked up a decent victory Wednesday, beating No. 62 Georgia Tech 82-79.

Best-case scenario for Dayton: A victory against Georgia likely would give Dayton a matchup with Michigan State at 8 p.m. Tuesday (ESPN) in the semifinals. The Spartans play Virginia Tech (5-0) in the first round at 5 p.m. Monday (ESPN2). If the Flyers could upset Michigan State, their most likely opponent in the championship game at 5 p.m. Wednesday (ESPN) would be No. 4 Kansas (3-1), which has lost only to No. 1 Duke (68-66 on Nov. 5).

Worst-case scenario for Dayton: Dayton will still end up with a strong opponent in the second game if it loses to Georgia. It will be Virginia Tech unless the Hokies upset the Spartans. That game in the consolation round would take place at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday (ESPN2). Two straight losses would most likely lead to a matchup with Chaminade in the seventh-place game at 9 p.m. Wednesday (ESPNU).

Local connection: Two of top scorers in Midwest Athletic Conference history might meet on the second day of the tournament. Michigan State's Kyle Ahrens (Versailles) and Dayton's Ryan Mikesell (St. Henry) are both fifth-year seniors. Ahrens ranks fifth in MAC history with 1,666 points and averaged 3.3 points in the first four games this season. Mikesell ranks sixth (1,540) in MAC history and is averaging 14.0 points this season.

Dayton history: The Flyers beat Georgia 63-55 in their lone meeting in 1973 at UD Arena. Dayton played Michigan State in 1991 and 1992 and lost both games.

Dayton is 5-8 against former Atlantic 10 Conference member Virginia Tech with the last meeting coming in 2000. Dayton is 1-1 against Kansas with a NIT victory in 1968 and a NCAA tournament loss in 2009.

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Dayton has not beaten either of the other Division I teams on the other side of the bracket. It lost to BYU in 1951 and 1959. The Flyers are 0-4 against UCLA. One of the losses came in the 1967 national championship game. The last meeting took place in the NCAA tournament in 1974. Dayton fell 111-100 in triple overtime.

Past champions: Kansas has won the Maui Invitational twice (1996 and 2015). UCLA (2006), Dayton (2003) and Michigan State (1991) also have won championships.

MONDAY’S GAME

Dayton vs. Georgia, 2:30 p.m., ESPN2, 95.7 and 1290 WHIO