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Purdue Basketball Off-Season Homework: Zach Edey

The reigning, undisputed and returning National Player of the Year isn’t close to his final basketball form.

NBA: Combine David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Hi folks, it’s that time of year where we try to avoid heatstroke and look to the future in both football and basketball. We’ve taken a bit of a break from hoops over the last month, but it’s time to jump back into the fray with our “off-season homework” series. Since I make the schedule, I get first pick, and of course, that means writing about one of the more polarizing players in college hoops.

You either love Zach Edey or think his main skill is being bigger than everyone. Purdue’s stunning March exit only furthered the “just big” narrative, despite Edey putting up 21 points, 15 rebounds and 3 blocks in the game. After flirting with the NBA draft before withdrawing his name at the deadline, despite reportedly having a guarantee somewhere between the 30th and 40th pick, Zach is back to not only repeat as a double Big10 Champs but to also rewrite his March Madness story. This is obviously uncharted territory for Coach Painter and the Boilermakers. In modern college basketball, you don’t often get the National Player of the Year back for another year (although it happened last season strangely enough).

Expectations are through the roof in West Lafayette. Every major sports outlet that I’m aware of has Purdue in their preseason top 5. After running away with the Big10 last season and spending a chunk of the year ranked #1, Purdue and Zach Edey will be circled on everyone’s calendar. Can Zach bring something a little different to the court in ‘23/24 as his game continues to expand and evolve? If so (and possibly even if not), Purdue’s early season hype will be justified.



This is tough. Zach averaged 22 points last season and did so with ease. The general consensus among college coaches is, “Zach’s going to get his, you’ve got to keep the other guys in check.” In terms of low post scoring, there haven’t been many as deadly efficient as Zach was last season. Once he gets the ball on the low block all you can do is foul him and hope for a miss, but even when you foul him (and it gets called) he shoots better than 70% from the foul line.

This is where things get tough. Zach’s low post game is dominant. If this were his NBA homework, the easy answer is extending his range out to the NBA 3-point line. This isn’t for the NBA though, and while I think extending his range would be helpful in the college game, at some point your 7’4” monster needs the ball around the hoop. Plus, there isn’t a ton of meat left on the scoring bone. He averaged 22 points last season, and while extending his range could bump that up to 25 points a game, that’s only a 3 point different.

Passing, in my opinion, is the place where Zach’s game can grow the most. Every opponent is going to try and throw the FDU game plan at Purdue next season. If “let Zach get his and shut down everyone else” is the theme, Edey facilitating “everyone else” could pay massive dividends.

In particular, Edey improving his outlet passing off defensive rebounds would help Purdue’s “other guys” score more points in transition. Last season Zach would pull down a defensive board, wait for everyone to clear, hand the ball to Braden Smith and jog down the court. I’d love to see him attack off rebounds this season. Purdue has incredible depth coming into the season and one way to utilize that is picking up the pace, but that’s hard to do when your best rebounder doesn’t advance the ball.

My homework for Zach this off-season is to check out Wes Unseld and Kevin Love highlights The late great Wes Unseld showed the world the power of the outlet pass in the 70’s. He would carve up defenses without crossing mid-court with his precision passing. If an opposing guard rested after taking a shot, and missed, it was 2 points going the other way because Wes was going to throw a perfect two handed, overhead outlet pass to a streaking guard.

If you’re looking for a more modern player to watch, it’s Kevin Love. Love made his career on shooting 3’s and throwing outlet passes. Even today, well past his prime, Love can still come in and change the tempo of a game for Miami with his outlet passing ability. Zach averaged 7.5 defensive rebounds a game last season. That’s 7 opportunities to put pressure on a defense from the start of a possession, instead of playing at Purdue’s normal glacial pace. The best thing about Purdue attacking early in the clock in transition, instead of waiting around for Zach to establish post position is Purdue can still wait for Zach to establish post position of the break isn’t available. Purdue’s guards and wings can be selective on when to attack because if they pull the ball out, they’ve got the most efficient scorer in the nation chugging down court as the trailer.

I hope Matt looks at what North Carolina did under Roy Williams. His offense involved a primary break off rebounds and makes, a secondary break, and then his half court offense. I think that’s the best way to get other players involved without fundamentally changing what Purdue does in the half court. Instead of wasting the first 10-15 seconds of the shot clock methodically working the ball down court and setting up the offense, I’d like to see a Zach outlet pass (either off a rebound or off a make) initiate the fast break, and then see Zach either spot up from 3 as the trailer or dive down the lane and see if anyone is brave enough to step in and try to draw a charge in the secondary break. If nothing easy opens in the first two phases of the offense, the third stage can still be Zach on the block doing his thing, surrounded by shooters who are now more engaged because they’re in an attacking mindset.

The downside, of course, is Zach playing fewer minutes because of the increased pace, but that doesn’t bother me. Purdue has an embarrassment of riches at center, including Furst, TKR, and Will Berg, all of whom have the ability to run the floor and spot up from deep in the secondary break. Edey isn’t going to be a 40 minute a game player in the NBA, so why not let the pros see what he can do in a role close to what he’ll be playing at the next level, while at the same time, letting Purdue play at a higher pace and giving them ability to knock teams out with quick runs.

For me, tempo is the answer to the mid-major problem Purdue has failed to navigate the last two tournaments, and that all starts with the big man in the middle facilitating fast breaks.


With Purdue’s devastating depth, I’d like to see the Boilermakers pick up the tempo early on offense and take more chances on defense. That starts with Edey. Last season, teams knew running pick and roll was going to give the ball handler a clean look coming off because Zach played “drop” coverage almost exclusively. This is where his college and NBA homework converge. Purdue needs to be more aggressive in their pick and roll defense, even if that means Edey picks up a few more fouls in the process.

I’d love to see Zach (or maybe I should say Painter) mix up his pick and roll coverage. Drop coverage is always an option, but Edey could make life extremely uncomfortable for guards with his 7’10” wingspan on the perimeter. Imagine coming off the screen and instead of seeing a retreating 7’4”, 300 pound center, you run into his chest. Zach on the hard hedge or the trap, if only to keep the opposing point guard guessing, would be a nice addition to Purdue’s overall defense.

My main complaint about Purdue last season was their predictability. They were hands down the easiest scout in college basketball. When the FDU coach said he watched the film and liked their chances as a 16 seed, everyone knew what he was talking about. Purdue was going to play a methodical inside out game around Edey on offense and play passive, hands off defense. I can’t remember Purdue truly making a team uncomfortable on offense last season. Letting Zach step out and defend could change that dynamic. I’m not calling for Edey to jump out on the pick and roll on every possession, but the ability to switch things up on defense should, if nothing else, makes the Boilermakers tougher to scout.

In order for this to work, Zach’s got to move his feet enough laterally for his long arms to keep the point guard (or whomever is running the pick and roll) from turning the corner. Much like picking up the pace on offense, this could cut into Edey’s minutes because he’s going to pick up more fouls this way. Again though, Purdue is loaded at the 5 spot, and could not only survive, but thrive ,with Zach off the court for long stretches of time.

The bottom line is Purdue needs to do something on defense to break up the other team’s rhythm and comfort level. At the same time, if Zach wants to carve out a role in the NBA, he has to show some ability to contain the pick and roll. This is a win/win for Purdue and Zach. It may take a while to perfect, but that’s why there is a non-conference slate. If it doesn’t work, or Zach can’t pull it off, Matt can always go back to drop coverage.


Purdue returns the Wooden Award winner who has expanded his game every year. In his final season, I’d like to see him facilitate Purdue upping the tempo on offense and defense. I’m not sure there is much room for improvement in scoring and rebounding, but he could up his assist numbers while helping Purdue get easy, early buckets.

Everyone knows about Zach’s drop coverage on defense, and they also know how to attack it. Purdue would be better served by letting Edey change up his pick and roll coverage. It might increase his fouls, but last I checked, basketball is scored in points, not least number of fouls. If Purdue’s Wooden Award winner shows a more diverse defensive skill set it would not only help Purdue, but help Zach find his way into the first round of the draft.

Stay tuned for the rest of the roster. These articles will come out every Tuesday and Thursday over the next month or so.