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Zach Edey-DJ Burns matchup a big one in every sense of the term; Thursday Purdue notebook

On3 imageby:Brian Neubert04/05/24

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — Purdue and North Carolina State (in its current form) are much more than just their big men, but it’s the Greek Mythology matchup between Zach Edey (7-foot-4, 300 pounds) and DJ Burns (listed, conservatively, at 275 pounds) that captures the imagination.

Edey is the universally accepted best player in college basketball, having laid waste to all in his path in this NCAA Tournament to date; Burns is the giant Cinderella behind this season’s most improbable tournament success story.

“I think it’s kind of unfair how people treat him,” Edey told reporters Thursday at the Final Four. “People treat him like a sideshow, but he’s a really good basketball player. Don’t get that mistaken. We’re going to give him that respect and treat him that way.”

Since the beginning of March, Burns has scored 27 against Duke, 19 against Virginia, 20 against North Carolina, 24 against Oakland (OT) and 29 in the Elite Eight vs. Duke. In games against UNC and Marquette, he recorded seven assists.

“To me what really jumps out watching DJ Burns is how competitive he is,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “Sure, he has the game. To me, he is kind of like a Zach Randolph type, which is a huge compliment because Zach was a fabulous player for a long time in the NBA. He looks like he’s having a lot of fun out there, too. The ability to score, to pass and I love the way when he’s not in the game he’s engaged and cheering for his teammates.”

It does remain to be seen how matchups will play out. Purdue has often switched its defensive assignments against certain types of frontcourts, putting 5s on 4s and 4s on 5s.

But when Edey and Burns do match up, Burns is bound to have his hands full, not just with Edey’s size and strength, but also his effort level and, very importantly, the nature of Purdue’s offense, which purposefully aims to put opposing centers in ball-screen defense, entangling them in another labor-intensive action before they have to tangle with Edey.

“I think it’ll be fun,” Burns said, with his trademark smile, “but I don’t think it’ll be too much of a challenge if we do the right things.”

But Purdue’s battle-of-attrition factor is very real, fouls, fatigue and such. Purdue’s tempo is a part of that, too.

“We have to figure out a lot of things, whether he’s on (Trey Kaufman-Renn) or on Z,” Braden Smith said. “But we’re just going to stick to what we do and not go off what they do.”

MATT PAINTER ON NC STATE

NC State, remarkably, has won nine consecutive elimination games. Before that run, the Wolfpack were going to miss the tournament and Kevin Keatts was almost certain to be let go.

Since, nine straight wins.

“My message to them about NC State was that we’re playing an undefeated team,” Painter said. “The team that was 17-14 doesn’t exist anymore. The team that’s 9-0 does. That’s the team we’re playing.

“If we played ’em six weeks ago, then we would be playing that team. If you go back and look, when they lost six out of eight or seven out of nine, it was coming out off of them starting their conference season and being 5-1. It wasn’t like they were struggling before. They just had that tough stretch right in the middle of their season going towards the end. Obviously winning those nine state games.

Purdue has been distinctly businesslike and professional about this NCAA Tournament run.

Does that change now that a significant milestone has as been hit?

“We’ve done a good job staying pretty level-headed,” Lance Jones said. “We haven’t gotten too high or too low. Obviously after that Tennessee game, our emotions let out a little bit, but after that, it was right back to work. We’re enjoying the moment, but we’re also about business.”

MIKE BOBINSKI ON THE FINAL FOUR

Mike Bobinski’s attended many, many Final Fours over the years, but in his long career as an athletic director, he’s seen many of his basketball teams stopped at the Elite Eight. This is first for one of his teams.

“I personally believe that this isn’t the last time we’re going to do this,” Bobinski said. “Now that we’ve broken the seal on this, I think we’re going to get our share of these. Matt is far from done take taking teams to this level, in my opinion.”

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A PURDUE-DJ BURNS CONNECTION

NC State star DJ Burns spent his four seasons prior to this one at Winthrop in his hometown of Rock Hill, S.C.

Winthrop’s athletic director for much of that time was Ken Halpin, now Purdue’s associate athletic director and main men’s basketball administrator.

“He was awesome,” Halpin said. “His parents really cared about his academic experience and that he was really being cared for as a human being. We loved him. You see how he is. He’s got such a charismatic smile. What (Lance Jones) does for us from an energy standpoint, DJ probably does for them. He did it for us at Winthrop. He’s a great kid and great to be around and it’s been fun to see his success on a national scale.

“Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want him to win any more games, but I’ve been happy for him seeing him do so well.”

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