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2022-23 Purdue Basketball Homework: Zach Edey

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“Have the really big guy dunk it” is a good play.

Syndication: The Record William Bretzger-The Record / USA TODAY NETWORK

After two seasons of pretty much the same lineup, Purdue basketball is going to look very different in 2022-23. Coach Painter is very big on getting old and staying old. That is one of many reasons why the 2021-22 season had such ridiculously high expectations. Purdue had three players (Sasha Stefanovic, Trevion Williams, and Eric Hunter Jr.) that had been around forever and were part of a team that came within a hair of the Final Four. It also had a second year lottery pick and a wealth of experience returning from a team that got better as the 2020-21 season went along.

Unfortunately, Purdue came up short. The 29 wins yielded only Cheez-its in cup from a November tournament. Even that was ultimately frustrating, as the two wins to earn said trophy came over teams that made the Final Four. I honestly feel like this season was very similar to the 2018 season. Both won the most games in school history (30 in 2018, 29 this year) but ultimately won nothing of consequence. That 2018 team felt like it consistently played 10-15% above its projected ceiling, while this year felt like it played 10-15% below it. Purdue was very good, but should have been even better, and with five losses by three points or less (all in games where Purdue beat itself more than anything) fans were left with a sour taste.

We have to look ahead though, and the 2022-23 should still be a decent team. ESPN already rates Purdue as 23rd on its way-too-early top 25. That means we should solidly be in the NCAA field, and that is before any transfers in or NBA departures for other schools. Michigan at 11 (before Hunter Dickinson makes a decision), Illinois at 17 (before Kofi Cockburn decides), and Indiana at 21 (before Trayce Jackson-Davis decides) are the only other Big Ten teams in said top 25, so getting the lost Big Ten title we all expected this year is possible.

Trevion and Sasha have already announced their intentions to not use their COVID year, Jaden Ivey is off to the NBA, and Isaiah Thompson is in the transfer portal. It is possible Hunter could return. In the past he has said he would not exercise his COVID year, but since he has not made the same formal announcement Williams and Stefanovic have, that door could be open a crack. I also expect Purdue to hit the transfer market (Nijel Pack, come on down). Assuming Hunter does not return, Purdue currently has two scholarship slots open and no scholarship seniors on the roster. That means it could be another year like 2021-22 that sets the table for a big 2023-24.

But we’re discussing 2022-23 here, and it still should be a solid season. Purdue is a program where making the NCAA Tournament each year is the bare minimum expectation. That should happen again next year. A Big Ten title and another second weekend appearance would not be a huge surprise, either. A big reason for that is the first player in our homework series.

Zach Edey – Jr. in 2022-23

2020-21 Stats: 28 games, 2 starts. 14.7 mpg, 8.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 0.4 apg, 1.1 bpg, 59.7% FG%, 71.4% FT%

2021-22 Stats: 37 games, 33 starts. 19.0 mpg, 14.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 1.2 apg, 1.2 bpg, 64.8% FG%, 65.9% FT%

I fully expect Zach to test the NBA draft waters, but return with eligibility intact. In fact, he would be foolish not to. It is a great chance for him to gain feedback before coming back to work on what he needs to work on. The downside to that is that his game really does not really translate to the modern NBA. He will always be compared to Isaac Haas as a Purdue big. I think he is a better version of Haas, but for as dominant as Isaac was in college, he has played 0 minutes in the NBA and was only in the G League for two years before heading over to China.

Let’s start with the obvious: Edey is a 7’4” 295 pound giant that is just going to be bigger than 99.9% of his opponents. He has a tremendous advantage when guarded one-on-one because of his size alone, and his footwork has always been a major plus from day one. He hit almost 65% of his field goal attempts this year, which is not surprising considering that he often gets the ball within three feet of the basket and it doesn’t have to travel very far from his hands to the rim. He is good for 2-3 wide open dunks per game based on size and footwork alone. He also greatly improved his offensive rebounding (1.7 as a freshman to 3.2 as a sophomore). Putback dunks count the same as any great post move, so if he does that 2-4 times per game it is extremely valuable.

Zach had a bit of a midseason slump at the free throw line, but he was much better in the postseason. In Purdue’s two NCAA Tournament wins he was 15 of 22 from the line, taking at least 10 attempts in both games. Therein lies the trouble. Because of his size Zach is going to get fouled. A lot. Will the officials call it? In the three point loss to St. Peter’s Zach played 17 minutes. He attempted two free throws. They came with 15:47 to go in the first half. This was a game after he attempted 12 free throws in just 15 minutes against Texas, and 10 in 20 minutes against Yale. It was far from the reason Purdue lost, but it is curious that his numbers dropped so dramatically against a smaller team.

On the season Zach attempted 4.7 free throws per game. Once he was in the NCAA Tournament with different officials he got to the line a lot more… except against St. Peter’s. We all know that his size alone means he is officiated differently. He is going to get fouled a lot. Will they be called? Purdue beat Texas because the Longhorns were called in their strategy to foul a lot and hope they weren’t called. In other games that didn’t happen.

Purdue should be in an interesting place with Edey this season. He will see his usage rate increase because of the departure of Williams. I can see him playing 20-25 minutes per night, which given his efficiency is a good thing. He mostly avoided foul trouble on the year, with four fouls in just nine minutes at Penn State being his worst outing. He finished the season with 17 consecutive games in double figures. In three of Purdue’s six postseason games he had at least 10 rebounds.

On size and additional minutes alone Edey can be an 18 and 10 per night. Will Purdue rely on him too much though? It felt like one of the fatal flaws Purdue had this year was a tendency to default to the post far too often. When the Boilers went away from the balance of inside-out the offense tended to struggle. Things would slow down and possessions became a question of “Will our big score, will the call the foul, or will they miss and it becomes an empty trip?” Purdue thrived when the three-point shooting was lethal and teams had to single cover Edey and Williams. If the threes weren’t falling and we had to default to the post, the double teams came, and that often lead to misses, uncalled fouls, and turnovers. Zach generally has been excellent about keeping the ball high and away from turnovers, but when he is harried by 2-3 defenders he tends to rush things.

I don’t expect Edey to suddenly step out and shoot threes, but he was much more willing to operate the high screen and set the table for our guards than Williams. I want to see that role expand this year. He had a lot of success rolling to the basket off of said screens, too. If he can develop a free throw line jumper as part of his arsenal, something Haas never really had, that will help a lot.

I also would love to see him as a better defensive presence as a rim protector. He will always be vulnerable to fives like Hunter Dickinson that can draw him away from the basket, but inside I think he can improve to 2-3 blocks per game just because he is a large tree that gets in the way of shots.

In the end, Zach is a tremendous asset to have. He will be the centerpiece offensively because he can be so dominant in the post. His passing even improved as this season went on, and his ability to pass out of double teams to open perimeter looks will also be a key to Purdue’s success. Just by running the “give the ball to the really big guy close tot he basket” offense Purdue can have a lot of success. Yes, Purdue loses a lot, but returning one of the most physically dominant players in all of college basketball will greatly help the reload.