INDIANAPOLIS – The way John Adams does every time he sees a Purdue The game of men’s basketball, and the way he says it so eloquently, no hesitation, is this: “Zack Eddy gets the shit going with him.”
But the former NCAA national coordinator of men’s basketball says: “At 7-4, 300-plus pounds, guys just bounce off him.”
And therein lies the seemingly insoluble puzzle of whether to whistle for, or against, the Herculean Eddie to the authorities.
“It’s what we call ‘art versus science,'” said Bo Borowski, who spent two decades as a Division I official before retiring in 2022 after three straight Final Fours. Borowski made a lot of courtside decisions as Ade posted. And when he made those calls, he kept two things top of mind.
“Science. It’s the letter of the law. If you do it, it happens, no other thought,” Borowski said. “And the art. It’s getting a feel for the game, understanding what makes an impact. I always tried to use both.”
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Like when a 5-11 guy pounced on Ade’s forearm as he went up for a monstrous dunk, and sent it pounding through the rim. Was it illegal contact or just casual?
Officials have to walk a fine line when it comes to true fives, true post players, true back-to-the-basket centers. Ade is a dying breed in basketball, Adams said, and it’s a liability to have him on the court.
“Eddie is punished,” he said, “for being one of the last true centers.”
‘Can’t say he’s 7-4 against Ade’
Purdue coach Matt Painter appears to agree, though he declined an interview with IndyStar for this story. In January, Painter spoke after Purdue’s victory over Maryland, in which the team “used several players to enter the game to hit and bang with the Boilermakers’ 7-foot-4 center,” Journal and Courier wrote,
Painter said, “All the cocky chucks, the grips, all those things have to be called and it has to be called every time.” “I think the officials don’t want to call it every time because in most scenarios people aren’t going to do that, but since (Ade) is such a hard cover, that’s what happens.”
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The officials are the ones who have the power to decide whether an elbow or hook from an opponent on an Eddie rises to the level of illegal contact, especially when Eddie uses his monstrous body to fight and make a basket.
Borowski said, “It can’t be against Zack Ade that he’s 7-4. If he takes illegal contact, it must be foul.” “With that said, you also need to take into account all the other variables that go into the decision-making process.”
And that’s where art comes in.
“These are massive humans,” Borowski said. “There is a proportionality aspect to this because if I were to push someone who is 5-8 with the same force I would push someone 7-4, it may not have any negative consequences or effects on the 7-4 person. That’s We have to differentiate.”
Sometimes, science says it was a foul. Sometimes, the art says it wasn’t. And vice versa on which end of the court the whistle is blowing.
“Unfortunately for people of Zach’s size, they make a lot more contact than their peers,” Borowski said. “Because it takes more exposure to have an impact.”
With Eddie, former official JD Collins says, “You have to look at the size of the players rather than, ‘Do they get an advantage?'”
“We look at the physical action on the floor and determine whether there was a displacement,” said Collins, who has worked for two decades, including two final fours, one Elite Eight and five Sweet Sixteens. “If you have two, 300-pound, 6-10 players, both pushing over each other, the art of the game says ‘physically, not necessarily a foul.'”
But when one player displaces another, the call may change.
Collins said, “When you see a big guy, sometimes they just move on the court because the guy guarding them is smaller, they move too.” They do not necessarily have to be physically displaced. It’s a very fine line that determines what displacement versus gain is.”
A fine line, especially when it comes to Eddie, the most monstrous college basketball star in the game.
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Ade declined an interview request for this story through a spokeswoman, who said, “We’re going to politely decline the idea of that story. No good can come of talking about the referee.” “
7-0, 284-pound Greg Oden steps up to explain what it’s like to be an Eddie on the court.
“Being a bigot, you think it’s unfair,” said Oden, a former Lawrence North High and Ohio State star and NBA player. “It’s always strange being so much bigger and more powerful and influential. It seems like no matter what kind of force they can give you, if you give even a fraction of that force back, it won’t do any good.”
Not good, a foul. And then, on the other end of the court, Oden said, there was “beating everyday”.
“Zack gets the herbicide treatment,” he said. “Everyone is beating him up the whole game and sometimes, he probably doesn’t even realize it. But he’s probably watching his back the next day in the training room.”
Oden, now the director of basketball operations at Butler, said he found ways to overcome his size while playing.
“I know people in the NBA will just nod or wave their hands,” he said. “My point was just try to play through it. Complaining to the referee isn’t going to help. Go through the contact, try to make the basket and if you get the foul, that’s a bonus.”
Borowski said he agreed with Oden on most counts. But sometimes, the bonus isn’t calling the foul.
“If Zach turns to the basket and makes a little bit of contact that I don’t think is illegal, it didn’t escalate to illegal and I let him in, I did him a favor,” Borowski said. “I could whistle at that, wave the bucket and who exactly have I punished? I punished Purdue and Zach Eddy.”
Whistles or not, Ade made it clear after the Maryland game in January that he believes what’s happening on the court matters. “I spoil every property,” he said.
“I think a lot of people know this. They’ll have two hands on my back. They’ll have a knee on my butt. They’re just fouls. They put all their weight on me. It’s a foul,” Eddie said. “I’m strong enough, I can handle it. They can’t call every possession a foul, so I have to deal with it.”
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‘No one knows how to handle it’
Eddie “just shouldn’t have to deal with it,” Adams said. “Executing the true post play is the most inconsistently done part of the (NCAA men’s college basketball) game.”
People ask Adams all the time for his opinion of Eddie’s performance.
“Here’s the thing I tell people. I was on the road four games a week, 17 or 18 weeks (as NCAA officiating coordinator) for seven years,” he said. “I used to go into every game, sit under the basket, and I don’t know what’s a foul in the low block and what’s not. I think it varies from minute to minute, not game to game.”
The real problem is how few college teams have back-to-the-basket fives. “Almost no team does. Purdue does,” Adams said. “No one knows how to handle it.”
As the Big Ten tournament plays out this week — followed by the NCAA tournament — plenty of players and fans and coaches will be complaining about officiating, including calls for or against Ade.
But Collins has a statistic he wants to recite to those in question: In 67 NCAA tournament games in 2022, officials were correct 96.02% of the time when blowing the whistle, he said. When calls are added to this that should have resulted in a whistle, the officers were successful 93% of the time.
Collins said, “I don’t know about you, but I’ll be happy to be right about 93% of the time.” “And people yell at us like we were 50-50.”
Adams says the best skill an official can have when refreshing big guys like Ade is consistency.
“A foul is a foul,” he said. “If you’re calling that foul one minute you’re calling it one minute. Otherwise, every time the officials try to play God, they don’t do it very well.”
Follow IndyStar Sports reporter Dana Benbow on Twitter: @DanaBenbow. Reach him via e-mail: [email protected]
This article originally appeared on the Indianapolis Star: Purdue’s Zack Ade: How NCAA officials call fouls (or don’t) on big men