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This year’s Maui Invitational field is beyond loaded, especially with a first-round matchup between the No. 2 Purdue Boilermakers and the No. 11 Gonzaga Bulldogs. Both teams have national championship aspirations, but for now, both are hoping to spend Thanksgiving celebrating their Maui Invitational title. But that will only be possible for the winner of Monday’s showdown.
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These two teams met almost exactly a year ago with Purdue having its way in an 84-66 win. However, there’s no reason to think that Monday’s game will be that one-sided. With both teams eager to score a Quad 1 win early in the season and give themselves a chance to win the Maui Invitational, the Boilermakers and Bulldogs figure to play a close and competitive game for 40 minutes.
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The Boilermakers have looked the part of a national title contender thus far, blowing out Samford and Morehead State to open the season. To be fair, Xavier gave Purdue a little bit of a test with the Boilermakers failing to cover the spread. However, they held a comfortable lead for most of the game and won by 12 points.
Center Zach Edey is perhaps the most recognizable name in college basketball. The 7’4’’ big man is already averaging a double-double while also making his presence felt on the defensive end with 3.7 blocks per game. He’s obviously going to be a handful for Gonzaga and every other team Purdue plays this season, even elite teams that have plenty of size in the frontcourt.
But the Boilermakers are far from a one-man team. Most of the team’s core from last season when they were a no. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament is back. Sophomore point guard Braden Smith looks to have taken a step forward this season, averaging 8.3 assists per game over Purdue’s first three games. Plus, Southern Illinois transfer Lance Jones has given the Boilermakers another capable scorer and another veteran player.
Meanwhile, Gonzaga is yet to be properly challenged. The Bulldogs cruised to a win over Yale in their season opener, but their only other game before going to Hawaii came against an NAIA school. Mark Few’s team lost star forward Drew Timme and four other contributors from last season, so there are a lot of new pieces for the Bulldogs to put together.
That being said, there is no talent shortage for the Bulldogs. Freshman Braden Huff has hit the ground running and hopes to replace some of the scoring Gonzaga is losing with Timme’s departure. The Bulldogs also added sought-after Wyoming transfer Graham Ike to give them another high-volume scorer. Meanwhile, Ryan Nembhard transferred from Creighton to run the point for Gonzaga, filling a role his brother Andrew once played for the Bulldogs. Also, don’t underestimate the impact of upperclassmen Anton Watson and Nolan Hickman in helping the Bulldogs gel early in the season.
With so many new faces, the Bulldogs are among the biggest wild cards at the Maui Invitational. However, that makes it tough to get behind them against a Purdue team that has so much built-in chemistry with most of the team’s roster returning from last season. There is also no guarantee that Gonzaga will have an answer for Edey, which should allow the Boilermakers to win and cover.
Bryan Zarpentine is a 2008 graduate of Syracuse University and has been working as a freelance writer and editor since 2010. During that time, he has contributed to countless sites while covering baseball, soccer, the NFL, college football, and college basketball.More info on Bryan Zarpentine
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