Providence College will be forced to trade a tropical paradise for a southern mountain range in its marquee men’s basketball nonconference event this upcoming season.
The Maui Invitational will shift from Hawaii to western North Carolina. Tournament officials made the announcement in a Friday afternoon release.
The Friars are among a heavyweight field that now includes a pair of in-state opponents. Providence is joined by the Tar Heels, Davidson, Alabama, Indiana, Stanford, Texas and UNLV. Event dates have yet to be finalized.
“We couldn’t be more excited and deeply honored to bring the Maui Jim Maui Invitational here to Asheville,” said Demp Bradford, president of the Asheville Buncombe Regional Sports Commission, in a statement. “Asheville’s ability to host this top-level sporting event is a testament to state and local partnerships built on a track record of welcoming and supporting national and international competitive events to Buncombe County.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the sport to reconsider its 2020-21 schedule, and this event is no exception. Traditionally played over the Thanksgiving holiday, Maui could still fall in that window. The NCAA announced the season will start on Nov. 25, with practices beginning in mid-October.
All games will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center. Per the release, all people associated with the event – teams, staff members, officials and ESPN media partners – will be isolated in a bubble and tested regularly. Tournament procedures will follow state health guidelines when applicable.
The Friars surged down the stretch last season, winning their final six games and eight of their last 10. They entered the Big East Tournament with real momentum and had likely already secured a sixth NCAA Tournament berth in seven seasons. Providence was 19-12 overall and 12-6 in league play.
The Friars closed 40th in the KenPom.com ratings, and they’ll have plenty of elite company in the Maui field if last year is a guide. Each of the other seven teams finished inside the top 100, with the Hoosiers, Cardinal and Longhorns all winning 19 games or more. North Carolina lost potential NBA lottery pick Cole Anthony to midseason injury and figures to reload quickly.
Tar Heels coach Roy Williams is an alum of T.C. Roberson High School in Asheville. His North Carolina teams eliminated Providence from March Madness in 2014 and 2016. Archie Miller, now in charge at Indiana, did the honors at Dayton in 2015.
On Twitter: @BillKoch25