If you’re looking for one of the most pleasant surprises this year it was definitely Zach Edey. When we first heard of him we figured he was a raw prospect playing with a bunch of high level prospects at IMG Academy down in Florida. He was not as highly touted as his teammates, and given the expectation that Purdue would have Matt Haarms, Trevion Williams, and Emmanuel Dowuona on the roster in 2020-21 it seemed a redshirt year was almost certain.
Well, Haarms transferred, Dowuona was never healthy and did not play a single minute, so Edey was forced into action. That ended up being a very good thing. Playing with such high level competition paid off, and he ended up having a fantastic freshman season. He even earned a great nickname:
I don't know who started the "Big Maple" nickname for @zach_edey but I love it. Would be a fun logo to make.— Paul Sadler (@sadlerimages) March 3, 2021
Yes, Edey was great this year, and will only get better.
Zach Edey - Sophomore in 2021-22
2020-21 Stats: 28 Games played, 2 starts. 14.7 mpg, 8.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 0.4 apg, 1.1 bpg, 59.7% FG, 71.4% FT.
How do you announce your debut to the college basketball world when some people question how much you’ll play? Well, you come out and go 9 of 10 from the floor for 19 points and 5 rebounds against an NCAA Tournament team in your first game. There was nothing Liberty could do to stop Edey. Nothing. Of his 10 field goal attempts, 5 were the high percentage “I am just taller than everyone else so I am going to dunk now” variety. My favorite occurs at the 15 second mark here where he gets the offensive rebound and ALL FIVE LIBERTY PLAYERS are around him with no Purdue teammate inside that circle. He still dunks on all of them.
He was given Liberty and they chose death.
Edey followed it up with a 17 and 8 performance with two blocks against another NCAA team in Clemson the next night, finishing the two-game tournament with 36 points on 15 of 18 shooting. It was announcement. Who was he going to dunk on all year?
That debut displayed a lot of what made Edey so good this year. He showed early on that it is really, really damn hard to defend 7’4” 285 pounds. With almost no early scouting tape on him his first few games were a bit like Rondale Moore’s Northwestern game. Both Liberty and Clemson had absolutely no prayer of defending him one on one, and few teams do.
Edey would ebb and flow as the year went on, but for the most part the “I am just a larger and taller individual than you” offense worked. It was really more than that though. For such a big man he has excellent footwork already. He is also a very good free throw shooter for someone of his size. That is a key element to his game because he is going to draw fouls. He was second on the team in free throw attempts behind only Trevion, but his percentage was 21 points higher than Tre. Edey also led the team in field goal percentage, but it really helps when you’re bigger and taller than everyone and can just dunk on their heads.
Edey hit a bit of a freshman wall in Big Ten play, but the final two regular season games were among his best of the year. He served a 21 and 7 to Wisconsin and a 20 and 9 up to Indiana, giving him another Big Ten Freshman of the Week award. In the final 8 minutes against IU he toyed with the Hoosiers, scoring 12 points to put our ninth consecutive win over IU to bed.
Unfortunately, Purdue struggled to get him the basketball against North Texas and he was held scoreless with only two shot attempts in 15 minutes during our NCAA Tournament game. That is especially frustrating when his size advantage was so pronounced against the Mean Green. That Purdue did not make it a priority to just dominate the interior is one of many puzzling aspects of that game.
After entering this year with no expectations Edey goes into 2021-22 with extremely high ones. It is an incredible luxury that Purdue has one of the best post players in the country in Trevion Williams and can spell him for 15-20 minutes per game with a 7’4” 285 pound monster that cannot be defended one on one and who is really damn good in his own right. His wingspan is also a huge asset, as on both ends he is like an octopus with those long arms.
I see Edey as almost a better version of Isaac Haas. He has similar size and bulk to Haas and it is almost physically impossible to defend him one on one when he gets the ball on the low block. Edey’s footwork is a little bit better than Haas’ already and will only get better with big man whisperer Brandon Brantley on staff. As we saw with Haas, when you have a player that is very talented and so much bigger than anyone else on the floor it is a tremendous advantage. Another advantage he has over Haas is that he is very cognizant of keeping the ball up and not taking it to the floor. It was a joy to watch smaller players just flail at the ball as he held it over their heads like a bunch of toddlers. Haas seemed to put the ball on the floor too much. Edey has the footwork and the knowledge to know he doesn’t have to do that.
As for what Edey needs to work on, a lot of it is polish. His footwork will continue to improve. His rebounding could be better, but rebounding is often hard for the extremely big guys because their proximity to the rim up in the stratosphere gives them a little less reaction time. Edey’s ability to gather that offensive rebound and score was second only to Tre’s this year, so he is fine in that regard. His free throw shooting ability is also very, very important.
I would like to see Edey improve defensively. He led Purdue in blocked shots, but much of that was due to his tremendous size. With more polish he can be a lethal defensive force inside five feet and simply erase what teams want to do there. Offensively, the development of his passing is key. Trevion is an elite passer for a big man. We have seen flashes of what Edey can do with his passes. He is going to draw double teams because there is no way teams can defend him one on one. Passing out of said double team (and Purdue’s ability to hit the open looks from said passes) will be a huge part in determining if Purdue has a good season or a great season.
The only other thing I could see is if he continues to develop a midrange game. He is so large that when he is on the high screen defenders have to almost go through customs to get around him. Having the ability to hit a little 12 to 15 footer every now and then just gives opponents a “great, we have to defend THAT now?” ability.
There is only one real detriment in his game I can see, and that is when he is defensively pulled away from the basket and has to defend the perimeter. A team with a big that can shoot, especially from three, is his kryptonite, but the same is true for Trevion as well (and, in general, Purdue as a whole for the last several years). Still, with he and Trevion, Purdue is more than set in the post, and with Caleb Furst coming into the program as foul trouble insurance for both of them Purdue has an absolute embarrassment of riches inside.
As one small bonus, even his mom is a delightful follow on Twitter, especially given the... colorful parents we have seen active on the medium in recent seasons.
Finally, can we have him throw an inning for Purdue baseball in some random midweek blowout against Chicago State or something, just for fun?