Purdue, because of Covid and other delays, will finally get to take a trip to Europe this summer following the summer practice period. The Boilers will teams from Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic in advance of one of the most anticipated seasons in Purdue Basketball history. The Boilers, however, will be without their biggest piece of the puzzle. Literally and figuratively. Zach Edey will instead be with the Canadian National Team from July 31st through possibly the beginning of September. Great for Zach? Yes! Great for Purdue? Even more so!
The importance of likely the most dominant inside big in college basketball since Greg Ostertag or Shaquille O’Neil can’t be understated. There is a reason why he was a unanimous All American, unanimous National Player of the Year, and won every single award possible. Nobody should try to dissuade you from the massive importance he will play for the hopes of a program that hasn’t been to a final four since 1980 and has yet to win a national championship. But, what about the good that comes from being forced to figure things out without what amounts to the gravitational pull of the sun in college basketball form?
We know the kind of player Zach is and can be, although seeing him expand his game to being a threat beyond the three point line will be something that could be seismic for himself and Purdue. The opportunity this affords to Purdue’s other three capable centers is huge. Zach Edey is going to eat up 30 or more minutes per game this next season which means game experience at center is going to be minimal for Trey Kaufman-Renn, Caleb Furst, and William Berg.
Purdue’s offense isn’t going to see a seismic shift with Edey trouping over the globe on an adventure himself but it will likely force some guys to take more of a scoring approach than they have shouldered in previous seasons. Purdue is going to still look to get the ball inside to take advantage of having a great inside scorer like Kaufman-Renn, who fans have seen take on a major role in the game against New Orleans last season with Edey out with an illness.
There are two very interesting scenarios that will be very interesting to watch that could come from Edey not being a part of this European trip. One, seeing William Berg in an actual live scenario. Two, seeing Caleb Furst playing at center without Mason Gillis or Kaufman-Renn at the power forward position. The interest is high for both of these instances is because that is what Purdue is likely to go to after the 2023-2024 season is over with Zach Edey, Mason Gillis, and Ethan Morton all moving on from their time at Purdue.
Furst is a breakaway from the traditional centers Purdue has enjoyed for most of the Matt Painter-era. I understand that Furst can play the power forward position alongside Edey or TKR, but he thrives as a center who can really stretch a defense with his shooting and athleticism at 6’10. Seeing Furst on the floor without one of those other power forwards makes Purdue’s lineup exponentially more athletic on the floor. A lineup that features Furst could possibly mean Braden Smith, Fletcher Loyer, Miles Colvin, and Cam Heide/Matt Waddell might see time on the court and that should be very exciting.
The lineup that includes Furst on the floor with the other four players is one that could conceivably have four 40% or better three point shooters on the floor at once with two extremely athletic players at their positions in Furst, Colvin, and Heide. That lineup could very well be the starting lineup for the Boilers after this next season (I would think Kanon Catchings may have something to say about one of those positions).
The defense will obviously look very different without a 7’4 behemoth patrolling the lane and dissuading almost any would be attack on the basket but Purdue will be better suited to defend what they have struggled with at times through the years. Offensively, they are likely to use more high ball screens that feature a pop action to take advantage of Furst’s catch-and-shoot abilities. As much as the defense will be able to switch more and more because of an increase in athleticism, the offensive end will be more fluid because of the abilities of those players tailor themselves to such an offensive scheme (think more Haarms-Cline-Edwards).
The other really interesting facet in this is how William Berg will look in his first live action in a Purdue uniform. The 7’2 big man from Sweden spent a lot of time healing last season and even into the summer with some foot issues that appear to have been sorted out. He is a traditionally Euro-big man who can step out and hit threes and isn’t really the low post threat that we have seen from players like Edey and Haas. There have been glimpses of Berg shooting from behind the arc but nothing is known until seeing him in a game situation.
Purdue fans are going to get a closer look at what the Boilers are going to look like in the 2024-2025 season than what we will likely see in 2023-2024 simply because Edey won’t be present. That’s something to keep a close eye on with some big time recruits coming in and the evident struggles of Painter’s system of overwhelming size struggling in March over the last ten seasons. The one time Purdue didn’t have a ‘traditional’ center manning the low-post with Matt Haarms was also the time in Matt Painter’s career that he was the closest to achieving a final four. I think that is something that should not be overlooked when glancing at the future of Purdue Basketball this summer in Europe.