Zach Edey And Purdue Are The Team To Beat
2:57 PM EST on February 2, 2023
Zach Edey is going to be national player of the year. Do not take my word for it. Here’s Matt Norlander at CBS Sports: “Purdue ‘monster’ Zach Edey is so good, he's already a virtual lock to be national player of the year.” The Athletic’s college basketball expert roundtable came to the same conclusion. “Barring injury or an extremely unlikely individual collapse down the stretch, Zach Edey is going to win the national player of the year award, and frankly the voting should not be very close,” Eamonn Brennan wrote. “Edey is straight lapping the field right now,” Brendan Marks added, “in the sort of dominant fashion we probably haven’t seen since Zion Williamson in 2019.”
That’s high praise, but Purdue’s junior center has been basically unstoppable this year. He is averaging 22 points and 13 rebounds a game. But he’s also incredibly efficient in his scoring despite carrying the load. Kenpom’s stats say that Purdue's offense runs through Edey on 32 percent of possessions—eighth-most of any player in the country. He leads the nation in offensive rebounding rate. He shoots 62 percent (all twos) and draws nearly seven fouls a game. Purdue coach Matt Painter thinks he gets fouled even more than that.
“I think the officials don’t want to call it every single time because on most scenarios people aren’t going to do that,” Painter said last month, via the Lafayette Journal & Courier, “but since he’s such a tough cover, that's what keeps happening.”
Edey was a really good player last year, but he’s improved and become a star this season. His freshman year, he averaged six fouls per 40 minutes. Last year, he was down to four. Now he’s down to just two fouls per 40 minutes of play; he’s only been in foul trouble once this season, in the loss to Rutgers. Some of this is just a natural progression of getting some calls now that he’s the best player in college basketball. But he really has figured out a way to foul less, while still blocking shots at the same rate as last year.
And he doesn’t just score. Last night’s Purdue win over Penn State, 80-60, was a prime example. Edey pressured the Nittany Lions’ defense early on in the game; he had eight points and seven rebounds just over eight minutes into the matchup. Purdue was already pulling away. Then Penn State clearly focused its attention more on Edey—and Mason Gillis ended up setting a Mackey Arena record for three-pointers with nine.
“Penn State guarded Edey as aggressively and effectively as any team in conference play,” The Indianapolis Star’s Wilson Moore wrote. And he still had 18 points, 13 rebounds, and one turnover. (His turnovers were an issue at times last year, like against St. Peter’s in the tournament.)
The Boilermakers are 22-1 this year, with their only loss coming by a point against Rutgers. They are No. 1 in the poll, No. 3 in NET, No. 1 in Massey, No. 3 in Kenpom, and No. 3 in T-Rank. They are the team to beat this year. And yet true tournament success has eluded Purdue recently. The Boilermakers lost to the 15th-seeded Peacocks in the Sweet 16 as a No. 3 seed last year; Edey played just 16 minutes. They lost to North Texas in the first round as a No. 4 seed the year before (Edey, then a bench player, didn’t score in 15 minutes). Edey was really good against Yale in the first round last year, though.
Edey wasn’t thought of as the consensus player of the year coming into the season. Purdue was expected to drop off. After all, the team lost Jaden Ivey (the No. 5 overall pick) and two other double-digit scorers, Trevion Williams and Sasha Stefanovic. Edey wasn’t even the consensus Big Ten player of the year; every ESPN college hoops expert picked Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis. The experts weren’t too far off: Jackson-Davis is in the top five players in the country this season. Edey has just been so much better than anyone projected. (Kudos to John Gasaway, who did see this coming: “Now that Trevion Williams is no longer around to split Purdue's minutes in the post, Edey is beautifully positioned for a statistically monstrous season.”)
NBA scouts aren’t all that sold on Edey, and fans might waver too considering Purdue’s recent tourney losses and the stink of the Big Ten title drought. Even if it isn’t fair, it will take until the tournament for a lot of fans to believe that Edey is more than just another big college basketball stiff. But so far this year, he’s already given people a lot of reason to believe.
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