Everyone had Duke and Gonzaga pegged for the finals at the Phil Knight Legacy but it didn’t quite work out that way as Purdue knocked off the Zags with ease Friday night, 84-66.
A big part of that - no pun intended- was the play of Zach Edey. The 7-4 Canadian - we like to call him mini-Yao - was a handful.
Yao was 7-6 and Edey “just” 7-4, so that’s a weak joke. Edey isn’t weak though - at 295, he’s massive.
And he’s in good shape. He played 31 minutes, shot 10-16 finishing with 23 points, seven boards and three blocks. And he got 15 of those 23 in the second half.
He’s going to be a major problem for Duke. He’s four inches taller than Kyle Filipowski and three inches taller and far, far thicker than the still-wispy Derick Lively.
And we don’t see a way for Ryan Young, as admirable as he has been, to guard him. A lot of his nifty interior moves may not work against a guy who is seven inches taller.
But he’s not the only problem.
Purdue’s freshman backcourt of Braden Smith and Fletcher Loyer has shown a lot of maturity.
Both are home state products: The 6-0 Smith is from Westfield and the 6-4 Lower is from Fort Wayne.
Loyer’s brother, Foster, plays for Davidson but for some reason his hometown is listed as Clarkston, Michigan.
Both are solid and playing beyond their years.
Mason Gillis, a 6-6 junior, and 6-7 Ethan Morton, also a junior, started as well.
Edey and Smith are the only Boilermakers averaging double figures at this point, 23.5 and 10.3 respectively . Edey is also averaging 13 boards.
Gillis and Morris don't average much - 5.3 and 4.5 respectively - but it doesn’t matter. And so far in Portland, Morris has 13 assists and no turnovers.
Painter learned his craft from Gene Keady and his teams play like it. They’re always going to be hard nosed and play tough defense and this group plays really hard.
Okay, back to Edey.
He’s one of the taller players Duke has seen lately, outside of Florida State, where Leonard Hamilton usually has someone between 7-2 and 7-4. And they’re effective on defense. Offense? Typically not so much.
Edey presents some real problems. He’s not just 7-4, he’s more or less the size of a barn. He’s not particularly fast but he’s in good shape and can play a lot of minutes.
And he’s really improved.
So what to do with him?
Well, not too long before he died, someone asked the late Bill Russell how he would have dealt with the massive Shaquille O’ Neal.
Russell reflected for a second, then said, well, I’d make him haul that big body up and down the court until he ran out of steam.
Or words to that effect.
It’s probably sound advice for Edey too: see how much gas he has in the tank.
Jon Scheyer will obviously watch the Gonzaga tape, but he has a call he’ll likely make too.
One of the teams that Purdue beat earlier was Austin Peay and as you know, they are coached by one Nate James.
We’d guess he has some valuable insights.
The keys to beating this team is obviously dealing with Edey and that won’t be easy and fouls are obviously going to be a concern too. We mean specifically for Duke’s big guys. The other guys need to avoid the temptation to climb Mt. Edey just because it’s there.
Three point shooting isn’t a strength for this team so far, so Duke may be able to pack the defense in a bit to limit Edey’s touches. Of course, Duke’s three point shooting has been erratic as well.
However, the bigger concern is simple and challenging at the same time: playing harder than the Boilermakers.
Another is to match the maturity of Smith and Loyer, which is impressive. Jeremy Roach won’t have that problem but Tyrese Proctor might. We’ll have to see. This could be a huge game for Jaylen Blakes, who has shown that he's a superb defender. Coach K had a 12-letter word for guys like that and we ought to collectively consider using it for Blakes, at least on defense.
Mark Mitchell could also make a big impact on the defensive end. As we saw against Xavier, he is capable of scoring against a high-level team.
This would be a good game for Lively and Dariq White to make strides. Lively is really thin but he may be able to apply pressure to Edey when he shoots.
Bottom line is Duke has a chance to win a championship in Portland. To do it though they’ll have to meet and probably surpass Purdue’s intensity.
Win or lose, this game is going to help Duke mature and a few weeks from now, that will be what the takeaway is.
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