Aloha! The Maui Invitational looks like one of the toughest Feast Week tournament fields I have seen in my lifetime. Kansas, Marquette, Tennessee, UCLA, Syracuse and, of course can’t forget, Purdue. The Boilermakers return all their key rotation players from last season (except for Brandon Newman and David Jenkins Jr.). This group is one year older, has depth, balanced, and more athletic than Gonzaga.
Key to a victory for the Zags? Somehow find a way to slow down the friendly giant. Gonzaga has to try to make Zach Edey (2023 National College Player of the Year) uncomfortable. Tall task, I know. Watson, Ike, Huff, Gregg will be throwing constant pressure and double teams at him all day long. It’s going to get rough but reassuring to know that Mark Few has four more than quality big men at his disposal.
One point to remember is that Purdue is much more than just Edey. If you look back to last year’s 84-66 loss at the semifinals of the PK85, Matt Painter’s shooters were stepping up in Fletcher Loyer and Mason Gillis. Caleb Furst also did some damage, a strong forward that is aggressive on the boards.
And I can’t forget about Braden Smith who is the second leading scorer for Purdue and finds his teammates for easy looks. Leads the team in assists (8.3 APG) and second in both points (11.7 PPG) and rebounds (6.0 RPG) through the first three contests? Scary stuff.
Purdue’s record -
3-0 (W vs Samford, W vs Morehead State, W vs Xavier)
Key stats -
89.3 PPG (tied for 42nd in the nation)
57.7 points allowed
53.4 FG% (30th in the nation)
46.3 3P% (7th in the nation)
22.3 APG (11th in the nation)
7.3 BPG (9th in the nation)
KenPom rankings -
119.3 adjusted offensive efficiency (#1)
90.5 adjusted defensive efficiency (#8)
Key player to watch for -
Zach Edey (senior, center): 20.7 PPG on 61.3 FG%, 10.0 RPG, 2.0 APG, 3.7 BPG
I have nightmares about this guy. With his enormous size and soft touch around the rim, Edey looks like he could go back-to-back as the NPOY. He brings heavy pressure to his opposing frontcourts. The big man also has looked much more comfortable at the free throw line. Was for sure in the gym working on that part of his game in the offseason.
Being physical, getting him in early foul trouble, and keeping him outside of the key as much as possible is the name of the game when trying to stop the 7’4” beast. Switching out different defenders on him and seeing which of the Gonzaga big men can stop him in his tracks will be very interesting to watch.
I have a gut feeling that Nolan Hickman is going to be the guy to watch out for in this matchup. With Ryan Nembhard taking over as the offensive coordinator now, Hickman can be free to be more of the scorer that he is capable of. This could be his true coming out party this week if he is smart with his shot selection. He has had a bumpy beginning to his three-point percentage at 18.2 3P%.
You can catch the Boilermakers go up against the Zags in round 2 tomorrow on Monday, November 20th at 2 PM PT on ESPN2 in beautiful Hawaii. Make sure to keep the people of Maui in your thoughts when watching this tournament, they’ve been through a lot. Happy Feast Week!
Arden Cravalho is a Gonzaga University graduate from the Bay Area... Follow him on Twitter @a_cravalho