Purdue in one of toughest Maui Invitational fields ever: 'This is going to be difficult.'

Dan Angell
Special for IndyStar
  • Purdue vs. Gonzaga, 5 p.m., Monday; ESPN2

HONOLULU — Matt Painter began his Hawaiian trip with a win — and a potential new recruiting find for coach Katie Gearlds.

Painter paired up with local third-grader Jordyn Koike to win the annual coaches’ charity free throw shooting contest Sunday morning at the Hawaii Convention Center. Between them, Painter and his young partner sank five of six free throws, leaving him impressed with her performance.

“Let’s get her on the phone and get her a Boilermaker scholarship,” Painter said with a smile. “You’ll always take someone who can make free throws.”

'It's one you grow up watching':Purdue ready for Maui Invitational

Purdue men’s basketball head coach Matt Painter smiles towards the stands during the alumni game and intrasquad scrimmage, Saturday, Aug. 5, 2023, at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Ind.

Painter’s got plenty of players who can do that — and a lot more —  on his roster. But as the No. 2 Boilers prepare to open the 2023 Maui Invitational on Oahu against 12th-ranked Gonzaga on Monday, they know the same is true of everyone who’s come out to the islands this year.

 “We’re all very competitive and everybody here wants to go 3-0,” Painter said. “But only one team is going to do so. There’s going to be a lot of really good teams that are going to go 2-1 or even 1-2, and that’s part of it. We’ve played in some high-level MTEs in past years, and we’ve been fortunate enough to win them. But this is going to be difficult.”

Painter’s not exaggerating on either side of that statement. Half the teams at this year’s Maui are ranked in the top 10, with Gonzaga likely to join that group when the new rankings come out Monday. Beyond that, Syracuse has never lost in the Maui and UCLA has made three consecutive Sweet 16s, which has some calling this the most loaded field in the event’s 40-year history.

“We made this commitment four years ago, but I don’t know if we would do it today,” joked Rick Barnes of Tennessee, which could be Purdue’s Tuesday opponent. “This field is incredible when you think about the programs up here with outstanding coaches that know what they’re doing. We’ll all come out better basketball teams because of what we’ll find out about our basketball teams.”

Few have been better at learning and executing early lessons than Painter and Purdue. The Boilers play in a multi-team event every season, and they’ve played for the tournament championship seven times in the past eight seasons.

Part of that can be attributed to Painter’s refusal to focus on anything but his team’s first game and let the other two games take care of themselves. With less than 24 hours between games, the Boilers don’t have time to put together a full scouting report on the other teams anyway, so Painter is determined to focus squarely on the Bulldogs and let his assistants learn about the other opponents.

“It’s about playing Gonzaga, really,” he said. “If you sit there and try to figure things out past your first game, you’re a fool. I’m just worried about Gonzaga, and if we’re fortunate enough to win, we’ll move to our next game and go from there.

“They’re always so good offensively. If you look at their efficiency, they’re always at the top of the country and they have a great balance. They’re very unique in terms of having an experienced frontline where of the two guys that start with them, one guy (Anton Watson) is an inside-out type and the other is more of a low post guy (Graham Ike), but made a 3 his last game and averaged 20 at his previous school. Then the guys they bring in can really shoot 3s.”

Of course, the Boilers bring their own answer in the frontcourt in Zach Edey. Last year, the Bulldogs proved no match for the senior, who led Purdue with 23 points and seven rebounds in 31 minutes. But unlike last year’s matchup, Purdue now has experience playing without Edey if necessary.

During his Sunday news conference, Painter touched on the team’s international trip, which forced Purdue’s other returning starters to learn how to play without Edey while he was with the Canadian national team. The Boilers certainly won’t stop looking for him when he’s on the floor, but if Gonzaga or another team forces them to go to Plan B in Honolulu, that won’t bother them.

“When he’s in the game, you run a lot of stuff for him; you’re obviously going to get the ball to your best player whenever possible,” Painter said. “The backhanded result is (other guys) don’t get as many opportunities, but that depends on how people handle Zach. If you’re going to double team him, then other guys will get more opportunities.

“That just allowed other people to get into more scoring opportunities. The defense doesn’t change, your effort doesn’t change and the rebounding doesn’t change, but your offensive output does change.”