“Zach Edey didn’t commit a single foul last night!” Michigan State, Illinois and Indiana fans screamed with tears of rage streaming down their cheeks after the worlds largest Canadian dropped 32 and 17 on Sparty without getting dinged for a single foul.
It’s clear that these folks are upset that don’t have their own Ent in the paint (I mean this way in the most positive way possible, the Ents are the ultimate good guys in LOTR) , because they have a hard time articulating what Edey does that is foul worthy. He’s big, he has to commit fouls, is their position. They know the only chance they have of slowing Zach down is putting him on the bench, and when that doesn’t happen, they get big mad online.
Zach Edey doesn’t get called for fouls, because for better (and occasionally worse) he doesn’t put himself in position to commit fouls on either end of the court.
1-5 Pick and Roll
In the past, this is how you get Purdue centers in foul trouble. The 1-5 pick and roll has been kryptonite to Purdue big men. Edey isn’t great at defending the 1-5, but he also doesn’t foul because he retreats or plays “drop coverage” on the 1-5 pick and roll. Michigan State used that to their advantage late in the game, hunting Edey with Walker and attacking him with pull up jumpers. Still, you don’t see many fouls called on pull up jumpers.
Zach Playing Drop Coverage
This is a classic 1-5 pick and roll with A.J. Hoggard and playing point guard and Mady Sissoko at the 5 for MSU.
The first thing to keep in mind is Purdue has no fear of Mady Sissoko running anything other than pick and roll. Pick and pop with a big causes issues for Purdue, but Sissoko’s main job in this game was to foul Edey. He attempted a grand total of 0 shots in 22 minutes (that’s another reason why Zach didn’t commit a foul in this game). He’s not a threat, even in the roll.
I have two arrows on this play. The green arrow is Zach stepping out and challenging Hoggard to blow by him on the perimeter, the blue arrow is Zach playing drop coverage, protecting against the drive, and challenging Hoggard to shoot over him. Stepping up risks a foul but keeps Hoggard from pulling from 3. Stepping across risks Hoggard pulling up 3, but protects against a foul.
This is where Zach’s length and mobility plays a role in not committing fouls. Instead of stepping out and getting into Hoggard, he steps across, almost like he’s playing zone. If I’m Michigan State, I’m asking Hoggard to come off this 1-5 shooting (they did that with Walker late and found something). The problem with shooting is Edey’s incredible length allows him to play drop coverage, while still being close enough to contest a jump shot.
Ok Michigan State fans, if you want to get Edey in foul trouble, here is your chance. Hoggard has the switch he wants. He has Zach one on one and should try to get into his body on a drive. The best way to get him in foul trouble is forcing him to defend a drive. If I’m Tom Izzo, I’m screaming at Hoggard to attack his body off the bounce.
I will note that Zach plays the drive differently than most, he allows the player to blow by, keeping the offensive player away from his body, and then recovers to the rim to block the shot behind. We’ve seen multiple rejections by him out of this defense because his arms are so long he can block a shot in this position with 2 steps. No need to cut the driver off when he can invite him to the rim and erase the shot.
Instead of attacking Edey and putting him in a position to foul, Hoggard declines to drive the big man and passes to the wing. Early in the game, I want my guard attacking Edey at every opportunity. Even if he blocks a few shots, getting him in foul trouble should be the number one priority for the opposition.
After Walker pretends to be interested in throwing the ball down low to Sissoko on the block, he goes back to Hoggard because he’s a guard being covered on the perimeter by a 7’4”, 300 pound center. Surely he’ll attack Purdue’s #1, 2, and 3 option on offense in hopes of drawing an early foul this time.
Nope, he passes to Hauser on the wing without even challenging Edey with the dribble. Hauser hits the contested 3 over Furst, but Matt Painter is willing to give up that shot all game long. A foul on Edey in this situation would be worth more in the long run than Hauser pulling from deep on a shot he probably hit’s less than 30% of the time. He drilled this one, but giving up a shot like this is part of Purdue’s game plan. If they make it, congratulate them and encourage them to try it again.
Edey Under Attack
Tom Izzo, despite my visceral dislike for the man (in terms of his role as a basketball coach), is one of the best in the business. In the second half, he put the ball in Tyson Walkers hands, gave him the high pick and roll, and had him attack Edey’s drop coverage. It was an effective strategy. Walkers’ ability to both take it to the rim and pull up and shoot over Edey gashed the Purdue defense. Despite Walker putting buckets on him, Zach didn’t get frustrated and commit fouls. He continued playing drop coverage and not letting Walker get into his body, even if he ended up scoring.
Purdue wants to keep this pick and roll on the wing, but Walker does a good job of navigating the screen (some would say a moving screen) and getting back to the center of the court. Notice Zach’s right foot. He’s attempting to shape Walker towards the sideline, but it doesn’t work because he’s too far back. He’s not going to commit a foul this way, but he’s not going to “ice” the pick and roll in this position either.
Again, the green arrow shows a more aggressive path for Edey to contest the drive, the blue arrow shows the conservative drop coverage that keeps Zach out of foul trouble. Keep an eye on his right foot.
This is subtle, but important. Notice how Zach moves his right foot back, instead of stepping up? He’s giving Walker space. Last year Trevion gave up numerous fouls by stepping up and bumping the guard with his body. Zach gives space. He doesn’t step up and let the guard crash into him for an easy foul call.
Walker has closed the distance on Zach. Again, this is the place where some centers would get caught reaching or stepping into the ball handler. Zach gives ground instead. You can’t get called for a foul if you don’t touch anyone (most of the time at least).
First off, Edey covers an insane amount of ground in one step. Look at his right foot. It’s full on retreating. If he squares it up, Walker has the opportunity to get into his body and draw the foul. Instead, Zach takes his body out of the equation. Again, can’t foul if you’re not touching the guy.
Now Zach does square up on Walker. 90% (estimate of course) of centers commit a foul in this situation by either sticking a knee out or reaching as the ball handler blows by heading towards the rim. Check out Zach’s right foot and right arm. Those are the two potential issues.
Instead of leaving a leg in or reaching, Edey lets Walker blow by instead of picking up a foul. He doesn’t reach and literally moves his leg out of the way to keep Walker from running into it and drawing the foul. This is intentional by Zach. It’s not that he magically avoids foul calls. He intentionally avoids them, even if it means letting a player get to the rim.
Edey let Walker past him. Again, this is intentional to avoid the foul. He knows where he’s heading and is going to try and beat him to the rim using his crazy long arms and legs. It’s a gamble, but a foul in this situation is 2 free throws. I wouldn’t call this good defense, but it’s pragmatic defense. Zach can’t move laterally with Walker, so he doesn’t try, and attempts to move vertically for the shot block instead.
“Zach Edey doesn’t get called for fouls.”
Yeah broski, it’s because he actively avoids fouling. He tries to close the distance and get the block (as he’s done several times this season) but Walker does a good job of using the correct hand and getting the ball on the glass before Zach has a chance to swat it.
Notice how Zach keeps his body away from Walker? That’s where most big men get called for fouls. He is relying on his long arms to block the shot (doesn’t get to this one) and intentionally keeps his body out of the play.
I want to be clear. There is a trade off with this type of defense, and Michigan State exploited it ruthlessly in the second half. Walker torched Edey with pull up jumpers, 3’s and the occasional foray to the rim because he was playing off and not fouling.
For most players, I would be upset with this defense, but with Zach, I’m fine with it. He’s not most players and no one else on the roster can do what he does on offense. If that means giving up the occasional big game, so be it. He’ll get it back on the other end while drawing fouls (granted he only draws a quarter of the fouls that he should).
Anyway, when a Spartan, Hoosier, or Illini fan (not sure why they have beef with Purdue...or oh....it’s the stealing most of their football coaching thing and out performing them in basketball....never mind... I see it now), please direct them to this article.
I’ll break down his use of pivots to prevent drawing offensive fouls and how he “goes over the back” without fouling on offensive rebounds in another post.