'It's one you grow up watching': Purdue basketball ready for Maui Invitational
It's a holiday tradition in the Loyer household.
Playing in the Maui Invitational, however, trumps watching it on TV the week of Thanksgiving for Purdue basketball sophomore Fletcher Loyer.
"It’s one you grow up watching. It’s one you see on ESPN every Thanksgiving," Loyer said. "Being able to play in that. As a child growing up, it’s something I’ve looked forward to."
Add to that, this may be the most loaded Maui Invitational field in history.
Second-ranked Purdue opens Monday against No. 12 Gonzaga. Awaiting Tuesday will be either No. 8 Tennessee or Syracuse, one of three unranked teams in the eight-team bracket.
On the opposite side, No. 1 Kansas, No. 5 Marquette and No. 25 UCLA along with Chaminade.
"This tournament is packed with a lot of good competition, a lot of good teams," fifth-year senior Lance Jones said. "I think we’re ready."
Ready for Gonzaga.
Beyond that, Purdue coach Matt Painter isn't thinking about just yet.
"It’s going to be very difficult for us just because Gonzaga is such a good team," Painter said. "A high-powered offense. A lot of weapons. A lot of different ways that they can beat you. When somebody is that good offensively, trying to take everything away probably isn’t the smartest thing in the world.
"Also, not letting them steal baskets. They’ve gotten really good at getting some second chance opportunities through their defense and pushing the ball. They have a great combination of skill, speed, playmakers. Inside-outside bigs. They can score on the block. They can score off the offensive glass, but they can make 3s, too, across the board. It really puts you in a bind from a defensive standpoint just because they have such a high skill level."
Purdue and Gonzaga are no strangers.
A year ago, the Boilermakers used a second-half surge to beat Gonzaga at the Phil Knight Legacy tournament in Portland.
Purdue went on to win that tournament in what was a coming out party for then freshmen Loyer and Braden Smith.
What followed was a run to being Big Ten regular season and tournament champions and earning a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
The ultimate bump in the road came there with the upset loss to FDU.
Because of that, Loyer is aware some national media pundits are hesitant to take Purdue seriously.
So the Boilermakers have to prove last year's regular season wasn't a fluke.
"What happened last year has people ranking us in the top five where we think we’re the No. 1 team in the country," Loyer said. "Ultimately, we’ve got to go out and prove that. We have to prove we’re better than we were at the end of last season. I think we’ve done that. We’ve gone into practice every day with that mindset. We’ve still got to get better."
Sam King covers sports for the Journal & Courier. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter and Instagram @samueltking.