The Purdue men’s basketball team’s decisive victory against Wright State Tuesday night came off the backs of 7-foot-4-inch sophomore center Zach Edey, 6-foot-10-inch senior center Trevion Williams and 6-foot-10-inch freshman forward Caleb Furst.
Including the 96-52 victory over Wright State, the tallest players on Purdue’s roster have led the Boilermakers (3-0) to sizable wins in their first three games. The trio has been outstanding as of late, with all three finishing with a double-double against the Raiders.
Williams hit a major milestone in his career at Purdue, scoring his 1,000th point against Wright State. Furst is averaging 9.3 points and 9.3 rebounds per game as a freshman, which is more points and 4.3 more rebounds than Michigan’s five star freshmen Caleb Houston and Moussa Diabette. Edey currently ranks third in Ken Pomeroy’s Player of the Year standings, taking spots ahead of Drew Timme, Hunter Dickinson and IU’s Trayce Jackson-Davis.
Head coach Matt Painter has had bigs lead his teams in the past, including the likes of forward Caleb Swanigan, center Isaac Haas and center Matt Haarms.
However, the team seems to be relying on its big men to the degree that the performance of Purdue’s guards has been noticeably lower this year.
Purdue’s leading scoring guard, sophomore Jaden Ivey, who received the second most votes for Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year, has gotten off to a slower start than national pundits had predicted. He leads the team in turnovers at 3.3 per game and has a career-low 3-point percentage of 25%.
When Pomeroy, one of the leading college basketball analysts, was interviewed by the Purdue Sports Analytics club, he was asked if Purdue had any weaknesses that might prevent them from winning the NCAA tournament.
The Big Ten’s centers and forwards, he said, have been exploited by other teams’ athleticism, leading to the recent results from Big Ten teams in the tournament.
In 2016, Purdue had a similar roster led by 7-foot-2-inch Haas, 7-foot senior AJ Hammons, and 6-foot-9-inch Swanigan. That team ended up exiting the NCAA tournament early in an upset to Arkansas-Little Rock in the first round.
It wasn’t until the team added guard Carsen Edwards in the following year that it made the Sweet 16. The best performance by a Painter team in the big dance was with the 2018-19 roster, who had a majority of its scoring done by Edwards and then-senior guard Ryan Cline.
While Purdue may not have to rely on its guards in the regular season, it may be something Painter should address. And even with Ivey’s recent performances, other guards including senior Sasha Stefanovic and junior Isaiah Thompson have stepped up from behind the arc.