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College Basketball

Zach Edey Is Tall And Good. Now He Just Has To Be Good In March

1:40 PM EST on February 11, 2024

WEST LAFAYETTE, INDIANA - FEBRUARY 10: Zach Edey #15 of the Purdue Boilermakers reacts after making a three pointer during the second half in the game against the Indiana Hoosiers at Mackey Arena on February 10, 2024 in West Lafayette, Indiana.
Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Zach Edey has a chance to do something unprecedented this season. Since 1976-77 there have been six major individual player honors in men’s college basketball; in those 47 years, 29 players have won consensus honors. No players have won all six awards in consecutive years. Ralph Sampson was the closest, getting 11 out of 12 in two years. (Sporting News named Michael Jordan POY in 1982-83.) Edey swept the accolades last year, and is having an even better season this year.

If Edey becomes the first player to win all six awards in consecutive seasons, he’d deserve it. He's averaging 23.3 points and 11.7 rebounds per game, to go along with 1.8 assists and 2.3 blocks. He’s getting to the line more, a season after coach Matt Painter lobbied for more calls. Edey is shooting a little better, too. His rate stats, per Kenpom, are near what they were last season. He even hit his first three-pointer on Saturday! “I’m the best shooter in the country,” he said.

Purdue has played the toughest schedule in the country and is 22-2. They’re No. 2 in the AP Top 25, and near the top of every rating system. Maybe there will be some voter fatigue in one of the voting systems, but it seems likely that Edey will earn his second straight consensus POY.

Another unprecedented feat for Edey: The Boilermakers could avoid getting knocked out of the NCAA tournament by a double-digit seed.

This has happened all three trips he’s made to the tourney. He didn’t score in 15 minutes in his freshman year, when 13th-seeded North Texas upset four-seed Purdue in overtime. The third-seeded Boilermakers made it to the Sweet 16 in 2022, only to lose to No. 15 seed Saint Peter’s. Edey scored 11 points and played just 17 minutes. Purdue got a one-seed last season. The Boilermakers lost in the first round to Fairleigh Dickinson, the last seed in the NCAA tournament. Edey acquitted himself pretty good in that one, with 21 points and 15 rebounds. But he didn’t score in the final eight minutes; his final bucket came with 8:32 left in the game.

This has led to a common criticism of the 7-foot-4 Canadian: He’s just tall. It’s such a common refrain that, last year, six friends of the Edey family wore shirts that said “He ain’t just tall eh?!” to a game. The criticism is fun to say. It’s also wrong. He is tall, but he’s so much better than other tall players you have to stretch the coordinate plane when comparing them all on a chart. He’s also so good compared to basically everyone else. Evan Miyakawa, one of college hoops’ stats whizzes, wrote that his data put Edey ahead of any player since 2011.

In my database going back to 2011, Zach Edey in 2023-24 has the highest overall Bayesian Performance Rating of any player. On a per-possession basis, he’s estimated to have a bigger impact on both ends of the floor than any player we’ve seen in college basketball in over a decade.

Miyakawa says his stats rank Edey significantly better than last season. He has been playing basketball for just four years, and it’s clear he really works at it. “When people start to stereotypically evaluate him, they say, 'well he stinks at ball-screen defense,'” Painter said after Edey scored 38 in a win over Michigan State last year. “He used to stink at ball-screen defense. He doesn’t anymore.”

Back-to-back disappointing tournament performances don’t change Edey's incredible college career. But criticism of his performance in those closing games is legit. Dan Wolken of USA Today called them the “choke artist program of the decade” after last year’s loss to Fairleigh Dickinson. It’s still pretty early in the decade, but it seems unlikely anyone else will grab that ignominious title.

Is this season any different? I thought so last year. I called the Boilermakers the “team to beat,” then they crashed out in the first round. But Purdue is no paper tiger. They are good. And maybe this is the year they finally make a big March run. “For this season, the whole goal is to get better, to improve, not just Zach, but collectively. We did some really, really good things and that's what sometimes gets lost is that you do good things and sometimes you have a bad result,” Painter told Andy Katz recently. “But over the course of time, if that happened 100 times, what would your percentage be, you know, and blackjack or poker or whatever you get that figured out real quick … the success rate of doing things a certain way is gonna put you in that position.”

I’ll double down this year: Purdue is finally going to make a deep run in March. They might even win it all. Edey will be a star in the tournament. Now just watch: A team from a one-bid league is going to hit a gutshot straight draw and make me look like the college basketball doofus of the decade.

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