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Why is the 2021 Maui Invitational not in Maui? History of college basketball’s biggest holiday event

The biggest of the holiday college basketball tournaments has a temporary home in 2021. Here’s why.

An exhibition game at Michelob ULTRA Arena ahead of the Tokyo Olympic Games on July 16, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

One of the great traditions of college basketball is the Maui Invitational, and this year all the players, coaches, and media will still be near the sand. But that sand is from Mandalay Bay Beach instead of the Pacific Ocean, as the tournament has been moved to the Michelob Ultra Arena on the south end of the Las Vegas Strip.

Because of Covid-19, last year the event was moved to the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in Asheville, North Carolina, and was won by Texas who went on to win the Big 12. This year travel restrictions and protocols in the 50th state forced the event to the mainland once again, but now to Hawaii’s “ninth island” in the desert, which is an extremely popular vacation spot for Hawaiian residents.

The roots of the premier in-season tournament go back to one of the biggest upsets in college basketball history, when in 1982 the NAIA’s Chaminade Silverswords knocked off Virginia and Ralph Sampson 77-72. Two years later Chaminade began an event with just four teams, but it grew to eight in 1986.

Now teams also often play warmup games in the continental United States even though the eight-team bracket of who will play is already set so as to get an extra game in under the “exempt tournament” rule. That rule means all games played in the event will only count as one regular season game for those participating, and will count just once against the regular season limit of 27.

Traditionally held in Maui’s Lahaina Civic Center, which didn’t even have air conditioning until 2005 and caused one of the most exciting and challenging environments in all of college basketball. Now a member of the NCAA’s Division II, the Silverswords appear only in odd-numbered years since 2018, and will be in Las Vegas this year.

Six times the winner of this event has gone on to win the national championship, a feat last accomplished by the North Carolina Tar Heels in 2016-17. Teams generally only play once every four years or less, which makes Duke having won the event five times even more impressive. In three of those seasons, they’ve gone on to win the national championship.

Here are the matchups for the first round of the 2021 Maui Invitational on Monday, November 22nd. All teams will play three games in three days from November 22-24, with a losers bracket fully completed as well.

Game 1: Texas A&M vs. Wisconsin, 2 p.m., ESPN2
Game 2: Butler vs. Houston, 4:30 p.m., ESPN2
Game 3: Oregon vs. Chaminade, 9 p.m., ESPNU
Game 4: Saint Mary’s vs. Notre Dame, 11:30 p.m., ESPN2