(Photo credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports)
The field for the Maui Invitational is stacked.
There's No. 1 Kansas, No. 2 Purdue, No. 4 Marquette, No. 7 Tennessee, No. 11 Gonzaga, perennial powers UCLA and Syracuse and tournament host Chaminade.
"Obviously this is a great field, but we're just trying to lock into that first game," Purduecoach Matt Painter said of Monday's tournament opener against Gonzaga. "It's going to be difficult for us because Gonzaga is such a good team."
The Boilermakers (3-0) and Bulldogs (2-0) met last season over the Thanksgiving break at the Phil Knight Legacy in Portland, Ore. Purdue's Zach Edey had 23 points, seven rebounds and three blocks in the Boilermakers' 84-66 victory.
When the Maui Invitational pairings came out this summer, Gonzaga coach Mark Few made sure to call tournament organizer Dave Odom to needle him about another matchup with Purdue.
"That's one I wish somebody would have warned me about when I did it, but it's fine," Odom told The Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, Wash. "It will certainly keep everybody interested."
Few marveled at the collection of teams headed to the islands.
"Of all the years we've been doing these Thanksgiving week tournaments, what they call MTEs (multi-team events), this is far and away the best field I've ever seen," Few said. "What is it, 1 and 2 and Marquette. Tennessee is in the top 10, we're up there and UCLA has been great. I mean yikes, it's something."
The tournament will be played at the Stan Sheriff Center in Honolulu. The usual venue, the Lahaina Civic Center, is being used as a relief center in the wake of the wildfires that ravaged Maui this summer.
"It's a shame it's not in the small gym, that would be just incredible, but I'm glad it's in Hawaii," Few said.
The Boilermakers are led by the 7-foot-4 Edey, who swept all six major national player of the year awards last season. The center is averaging 20.7 points, 10.0 rebounds and 3.7 blocked shots through the first three games.
Purdue's Braden Smith averages 11.7 points, 8.3 assists and 6.0 rebounds and is shooting 50 percent on 3-pointers. Lance Jones (9.7 points), Fletcher Loyer (8.3) and Myles Colvin (8.3) also contribute offensively.
After cruising past Samford and Morehead State, the Boilermakers were tested in an 83-71 victory against visiting Xavier last Monday as Edey had 28 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks.
The Bulldogs beat Yale 86-71 in their opener before trouncing NAIA foe Eastern Oregon.
Redshirt freshman Braden Huff leads Gonzaga with 21.0 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. Ryan Nembhard, a transfer from Creighton, is averaging 11.0 points and 5.0 assists and returnee Nolan Hickman is scoring 13.5 points per game.
"They have a high-powered offense and a lot of ways they can beat you," Painter said. "When somebody is that good offensively, when you try to take everything away it probably isn't the smartest thing in the world."
Painter said he hopes to learn something about his own team this week.
"I think through competition you're always finding out about your team," Painter said. "When going to play in an event like this on a neutral court ... it's not like playing in the comfort of your own arena."
--Field Level Media