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Basketbrawl: Defending Zach Edey Has Turned Into A Street Fight

What do you do when the ‘Hack-A-Shaq’ is used but the fouls aren’t called?

Mark Elsner Photo

Editors Note

This is a tough article to publish, but Jed did an excellent job, and I think it deserves a wider audience. Still, even when there is a legitimate complaint, I don’t like to blame losses on officiating. It goes back to one of my core issues with Purdue’s low post-centric offense. If your offense relies on fair, consistent officiating from college officials, you’re doomed. College officials, are by nature, inconsistent...always have been. All of the issues raised in this article are legitimate, but also outside Purdue’s sphere of control. I agree that Zach Edey gets mugged every game. That’s not going to change. Sometimes the refs will call it, sometimes they won’t. This team must figure out how to adjust, and match physical play when the refs decide to make rebounding and post play a no-holds-barred, street fight. If they don’t, it’s going to be a tough stretch run, and an even tougher March. The refs need to be better, but Purdue needs to be tougher. - Drew

On a Sunday afternoon (this article was started before the Maryland game) I finally hit my limit. I’d had enough. As a fan of college basketball, seeing my alma mater getting absolutely brutalized, through what I deemed as an abysmal effort from the three officials charged with keeping the order on the court between the Boilers and Wildcats, could no longer be ignored.

Zach Edey sported a large, bloody gash on his right arm from being battered, pulled on, leaned on, and flat out abused. You can still see the scar from another gash he took from another game earlier in the season. Let’s also not forget the forearm shot he took to the face on an offensive rebound and put back that knocked his head back that wasn’t called a foul.

Then I began to wonder a bit more. If I had hit my limit of frustration and fully blamed a loss on the poor example of officiating, what do the Purdue players feel like? Specifically, what does Zach Edey feel like after a game where he is, at times, being smacked in the face? How does he maintain his composure while going go for rebounds with one arm because the other is being held down (let’s be honest, he doesn’t rebound with one arm because he likes the challenge)? If an opposing defense is playing red rover on a free throw attempting to prevent him from being the advantage that he is on the offensive and defensive glass, how does he keep from losing his cool?

Red Rover

I’d like to point out the Northwestern player making contact with Edey and his teammate. This is in direct violation of rules laid out by the NCAA (Rule 8: Section 5, Article 1, Part H: Players occupying any of the legal marked lane spaces on each side of the lane may break the vertical plane of a lane-space boundary once the free thrower has released the ball). This isn’t a judgement call, it’s cut and dry. This isn’t allowed, and yet, it happened throughout the game without punishment.

NCAA Emphasis?

I decided, against my better judgement, to re-watch the game to see how often these blatant infractions occurred. In the not too distant past, the NCAA decided to make the concept of freedom of movement off the ball and emphasis. What happened to that concept? In 2013, the first concepts of freedom of movement arose with a NCAA announcement that the rules committee wanted to focus on reaffirming the interpretation and application of existing rules that had “loosened and a more physical style of play resulted.”

The NCAA Rules Committee, at their May 4-5 meeting in 2022, met to discuss possible rule changes and points of emphasis from years past and how to continue improvement of the game heading into the 2022-2023 season. In that meeting, the following statement was made:

The national coordinator of men’s basketball officials reviewed the recent achievements and challenges with the national officiating program. It was noted that fouls are at a five-year low and is consistent in trends being seen at the NBA as well.”

The Men’s Basketball Rules Committee noted the continued improvements and requested that the national coordinator continue the efforts by coordinators and officials over the past several years to reduce physicality. Additional focus/attention should be given to the directive to reduce physicality to create freedom of movement – noting the following problem areas that need focus:

a. Rule 10-1.4 – Hand checking/body bumping the ball handler.
b. Post Play – Calling the first displacement foul especially on backdown plays.
c. Screening – enforce all screening rules.
d. Traveling – Especially perimeter and post travels.
e. Eliminating flopping from the game – enforce the rules!
f. Continue to enforce all cylinder rules.
g. The consistent enforcement of bench decorum, the coaching box and unsporting conduct rules.
h. Enforce the rules.

These points of emphasis were brought forward to reduce physical play in college basketball. After re-watching the Northwestern game, the blatant disregard for the enforcement of these points of emphasis was egregious. The most notable of missed calls were illegal/moving screens, post play fouls (not calling the first displacement foul/preventing freedom of movement), and not enforcing the “cylinder” rule.

Everyone in the country knows Zach Edey makes other large men look small. It takes a lot of force to displace a person of his size. It is also incredibly difficult to defend a person who is 7’4, weighs 300 pounds, and moves with agility and balance. It isn’t every day a player his size (not many 7’4” 300 pounders running around) has Zach’s skill level. That does not warrant allowing a defender, or a team, to defend him any differently than if he was 6’10, 220 pounds like Caleb Furst. It does not mean an officiating crew needs to even up his advantage because Edey is, quite obviously, a cheat code in college basketball.

First Half

In the first half, there was a sequence from 13:54 to 12:33 where there were blatant foul calls missed that impacted Edey’s effectiveness on offense.

At 13:54, Zach was fouled on a post attempt while establishing position while NW also broke the cylinder rule on the double team

Following that possession, Edey is fouled again while trying to set a screen in a horns up action by a defender leaning on him and placing two hands on him and pushing.

On the next Northwestern possession, #34 sets an illegal/moving screen that has been a point of emphasis in dribble-hand offs where the player must remain set during the hand off. In this instance, #34 spins and backs into Newman which forces Edey to cover further out and gives up a Northwestern layup underneath.

Finally, in the last piece of this sequence at 12:33 remaining in the first half, the defender fully extends both arms to push Edey to prevent him from getting set on his screen and being unable to get the timing of the PNR correct.

Some may claim these missed calls did not have a barring on the game. Purdue held a seven point lead headed into the second half, turned the ball over 13 times and failed to score when the game got tight under 3 minutes.

However, how different would the game have unfolded if Northwestern was forced to defend properly throughout the entirety of the game? Would they have been able to generate those turnovers? Would Purdue’s offense have been more efficient? Would Edey have received more post looks if NW was in foul trouble?

2nd Half

The second sequence of calls that was noticeable occurred in the second half. Zach was starting to get going and Purdue seemed to be able to withstand some surges from Northwestern.

At 15:37, Zach receives the ball on the block, makes a post move, and gets fouled for an And 1. This is early in the second half so it appeared as though the officials had set a standard for how the second half would be called in the post for both teams. That, however, couldn’t have been further from the truth.

At 14:34 where Purdue ran a ‘horns replace’ for Zach to get the ball in the middle of lane to prevent a double team. The pass comes from Mason Gillis and the defender is immediately pinned by Zach so he fouls multiple times on Zach’s way to score a bucket. This should have been another ‘And 1’ opportunity.

Purdue again goes to a ‘horns replace’ set and Zach pins his defender in the middle of the lane. The defender fouls Zach by wrapping his arms around him but no foul is called....again.

The Northwestern defender fouls Zach multiple times before a foul is finally called. This is reminiscent of the Michigan State game where the referee did not call the first or second foul on a rebound attempt, and subsequently got Mady Sissoko hip tossed by the big man. In this instance, it was actually the third foul that was finally called.

It was after this foul call that things seemed to get away from the officials. Northwestern went from 2 fouls to 5 in a short period of time and could have (should have?) been called for as many as 4 more in that span of time.

My issue with officiating this season boils down to this: you can’t take an advantage away from Purdue by changing the way a game is called to try and make the game “fair”. It’s not “fair” for 6’8” players to try and guard Zach Edey, but it isn’t the job of a referee to even things up for the defender. It is their job to ensure the rules of the game are enforced equally for both teams. Purdue has the biggest cheat code in college basketball but many times (especially in B1G conference play), the referees have inserted themselves into the game and called it differently just because Zach is bigger, stronger, and more skilled than his opponents.

In this final sequence I am going to walkthrough, you will see freedom of movement limited for Zach when he is off the ball called. This is a foul that could have, by my count, been called a minimum of 6 times throughout the course of this game. The defender is inhibiting Zach’s ability to move in a manner consistent with the rules that are laid out by the NCAA and were a point of emphasis in the offseason. You will also see multiple examples of ‘hook-and-holds’ not being called which is incredibly ironic given the rule was put in place specifically for the Isaac Haas injury and when smaller teams are trying to defend players with too much physicality. The major piece here is that a short time later Edey is called for a hook, which isn’t really a hook, when he had been getting hooked multiple times throughout the game. Coach Painter even asked to have one of those plays reviewed, which is in his right as a coach to do, denied by the officials.

Cylinder Rule?

In the final example from this game, the cylinder rule is blatantly ignored. This, again, has been a point of emphasis from the NCAA Rules Committee and should be called anytime a player is within the vertical cylinder a player has around them (it’s basically the width of a player’s hips and extended in front of them). Any time Northwestern doubled Zach in the post, defenders would jump into Zach and make contact or place themselves into that imaginary cylinder.

Example 1

Example 2

Example 3

Example 4

In Conclusion

Over the course of this season, Purdue fans have been vocal about how referees officiate Zach Edey and their inability to be consistent with calls. The Northwestern game brought those complaints directly into the spotlight. In a year when every fan-base has been vocal about poor officiating, this game stands out for its inconsistency. It’s frustrating to see a call Zach received early in the season, ignored late in the season. It’s hard to tell if this is due to inept refs, or if the Big10 has decided to call Purdue games differently because Zach Edey is too much of an advantage for the Boilermakers.

I could go on with a comical amount of examples of illegal and moving screens that were missed but I think I’ve made my point. The officiating has to improve and become consistent. The conference must do a better job of ensuring the preseason rules emphasis is carried throughout the entirety of the season, not just called in January.

You can tell from his press conferences that Matt Painter, one of the calmest, level headed coaches in the nation is getting frustrated. It’s rare that he makes his thoughts on officiating public (he’s certainly no Tom Izzo), but he’s become more pointed in his criticism of the officials recently. It wouldn’t surprise me if he picks up his first technical foul in recent memory over the next few games in an attempt to protect Zach.