Last night's victory over Grambling State was the final tune-up before the basketball team heads off to a much warmer climate. I had originally planned to take advantage of my grandparents living in Hawaii to go out and actually cover this tournament, but circumstances prevented me from doing so. So, like you, I will be watching this from the cold of the Midwest.
The Maui Invitational usually has the toughest field of any of these preseason 8-team tournaments. This year is no different with No. 5 Arizona, No. 27 San Diego State, No. 30 Pittsburgh, No. 37 Purdue, No. 38 Kansas State, No. 45 BYU, and No. 102 Missouri all being solid Ken Pomeroy teams. As long as Purdue wins one of its first two games to avoid Chaminade it will have three quality opponents.
Since we can play any of seven opponents Let's look at the field.
Kansas State Wildcats (2-0) - KSU leads all-time series 2-6 - The Boilers have not played Kansas State since going to Manhattan in November of 1988. That was the second half of a home-and-home where the Wildcats played the Boilers in the 1988 NCAA Tournament as well, making it three games in 11 months. That NCAA game, of course, was the biggest choke in Purdue history, as the Boilers lost 73-70 as a No. 1 seed in the Sweet 16 after leading by 10 at one point AND after beating KSU 101-72 in December.
Of course, none of the current players were alive then, but it still stings for those of us who remember. This year's team has beaten Southern Utah and Missouri-Kansas City before they play at Long Beach State tonight on their way out to the Islands. Thomas Gipson leads them at 19 points per game, but they have five players so far that are averaging in double figures.
There will be plenty of familiar faces as Bruce Weber coaches KSU, and Matt Painter has always done well against his former mentor. They have shot the ball extremely well at 58% per game. They are a poor rebounding team though at only 28 per game. The offense is averaging better than 90 points per game compared to Purdue's 78.5 before the Grambling game. The games have come against similar competition.
This should be a close game because the teams are next to each other according to KenPom. Kansas State is a fringe NCAA team just like us, so a win over them on a neutral floor would be excellent come selection Sunday.
Arizona Wildcats (3-0) - Purdue leads all-time series 6-5 - Purdue's last victory over a No. 1 ranked team came against Arizona in November of 2000at the Fieldhouse in Indy. A total of seven of the 11 all-time matchups have come on neutral courts, with the last being Purdue's 72-63 win in New Orleans during the 2007 NCAA Tournament.
This year's Arizona team is a legitimate Final Four contender as the preseason No. 2 behind Kentucky. Wednesday night they struggled with UC-Irvine, as they trailed 46-45 with 8 minutes left before closing the game on a 26-8 run. The other two wins came against Call State Northridge and Mount St. Mary's, both low-major potential tournament teams. They are still patsies though.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Brandon Ashley lead them in scoring at over 15 points per game. The team as a whole does not shoot well from long range at only 33%. They don't have a ton of height either with only Kaleb Tarczewski in the middle, so this could be a favorable matchup for A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas.
The Wildcats are probably the best team we could face out there. They are going to be near the tops of the poles all season so a win over KSU just to get to face Arizona would be a very nice schedule boost. If Purdue springs the upset, even better.
Missouri Tigers (2-1) - Purdue leads all-time series 8-3 - Purdue split a recent home-and-home with Mizzou, winning in December 2006 at Mackey while losing the next year in Columbia. I think it is cute that they think they are a basketball school despite never making a Final Four. As for this year, they enter as the weakest major conference team after losing their season opener to Missouri-Kansas City. 69-61. They rebounded with wins over Valparaiso and Oral Roberts, but a loss to a satellite campus is never good.
Montaque Gill-Caesar leads them at 16.3 points per game followed by Wes Clark at 14.3. The scoring drops off rather dramatically after those two. The Tigers have shot the ball very poorly so far, hitting only 42.6% from the floor and 61% from the line. They do not have a lot of size in the post either. The 6'9" Johnathan Williams III is their best interior player, but Gill-Caesar is a 6'6" guard that could cause problems. It is a good thing Jon Octeus would likely guard him.
If Purdue loses to Kansas State it will very likely get Missouri. That game would then likely be to avoid Chaminade in the 7th place game, which is the worst case scenario out there.
San Diego State Aztecs (3-0) - SDSU leads all-time series 2-1 - Purdue has not played the Aztecs since 1977 and has not beaten them since 1975. Under Steve Fisher they have been the perennial solid non-major conference team that generates a lot of regular season buzz, then does nothing in the NCAA Tournament. Last season they at least reached the Sweet 16 before losing to Arizona.
They, too, have not shot the ball well, but they still beat Cal State Northridge and Cal State Bakersfield. They also have the best win of anyone in the field by beating No. 25 Utah. J.J. O'Brien, Aqeel Quinn, and Winston Shepard all average in double figures for them, but they are only shooting 42% from the field. They also don't have the size we do with only one regular over 6'8"
Pittsburgh Panthers (2-0) - Purdue leads all-time series 6-4 - We have a bit of an idea of how we would do in any potential game against Pittsburgh since they beat Samford 63-56. They are playing at Hawaii on Friday night, so they would be the most acclimated to the time difference too. Their other victory was over Niagara, and they drew Chaminade in game 1, so assuming they win that one, a second round loss to SDSU or BYU would put them against us if we beat Kansas State and lose to Arizona.
The Panthers are not a high scoring team. Michael Young (13.5 ppg) and Jamel Artis (13 ppg) are their only two players averaging in double figures. Young is a versatile 6'9" forward that would like draw a matchup against Vince Edwards. Joseph Uchebo is their lone player at 6'10" or above and he is basically a stiff. He plays 12.5 minutes per game, but averages only 1.5 points per game. Again, Purdue's size should be a major advantage here with Hammons and Haas. I think it is clear that those two need to have a big tournament for Purdue to be successful, and the advantage is there.
BYU Cougars (3-0) - BYU leads all-time series 1-0 - BYU enters as the highest scoring team in the tournament at 95.7 points per game, but that has come against Long Beach State, Arkansas Little Rock, and Non-D1 Southern Virginia. Like Purdue, they share the ball well at over 21 assists per game.
Tyler Haws (17.3 ppg), Chase Fischer (15.3 ppg), and Anson Winder (10.3 ppg) lead them in scoring, while Skyler Halford and Kyle Collinsworth are great facilitators. With five players at6'10" or better they are probably the best team that can counter us in terms of size. They haven't really played anyone yet though. I can see them losing to SDSU, but beating Chaminade to be there for the fifth place game, which makes them Purdue's opponent if we lose to Kansas State but beat Missouri.
Chaminade Silverswords (2-0) - Purdue leads all-time series 1-0 - The tournament hosts often go 0-3 in the event, but it is not unheard of for them to at least win a game. They are 7-78 all-time in the event and have beaten the immortal Rick Barnes twice. Their last win came over Texas in the opener two years ago.
They are still a Division II team though. Playing them doesn't even count towards our NCAA profile and if we lose? Well, if we lose, shut the program down because we're not doing anything the rest of the year.Losing to a Division II program would be a major, major embarrassment.
Schedule and Picks (all times ET):
Game 1: 2:30pm ESPN2 Purdue vs. Kansas State (pick: Purdue)
Game 2: 5pm ESPN2 Missouri vs. Arizona (pick: Arizona)
Game 3: 9pm ESPNU Pittsburgh vs. Chaminade (pick: Pittsburgh)
Game 4: 11:30pm ESPN2 BYU vs. San Diego State (pick: SDSU)
Game 5: 2pm ESPN2 Missouri vs. Kansas State (or Purdue) (pick: Kansas State)
Game 6: 4:30pm ESPN2 Chaminade vs. BYU (pick: BYU)
Game 7: 7:30pm ESPN Purdue vs. Arizona (pick: Arizona)
Game 8: 10pm ESPN San Diego State vs. Pittsburgh (pick: SDSU)
Game 9 (7th place game): 2:30pm ESPNU Missouri vs. Chaminade (pick: Missouri)
Game 10 (5th place game) 5pm ESPN2 Kansas State vs. BYU (pick: BYU)
Game 11 (3rd place game): 7:30pm ESPN2 Purdue vs. Pittsburgh (pick: Purdue)
Game 12 (Championship game) 10pm ESPN Arizona vs. San Diego State (pick: Arizona)