See more of the story

Not many people on the planet could've done what Purdue's Zach Edey accomplished so easily when a ball was stuck atop the backboard during a Big Ten tournament game last season.

The crowd in Indianapolis cheered as the 7-4, 295-pound Edey grabbed a broom and used his 7-7 wingspan to poke out an object lodged 13 feet from the floor. Most players would've needed a ladder.

Edey is proof that size matters, but not just to grab things out of reach.

The No. 4-ranked Boilermakers (18-3, 7-3 Big Ten), who play at Williams Arena on Wednesday, are a program perfectly content being stuck to a past when big men ruled the sport.

Edey is the latest in a long line of 7-footer success stories under Purdue coach Matt Painter. But the first team to offer a scholarship, when Edey was all raw talent in Toronto, was the Gophers.

"They were my first D-I offer," Edey said Tuesday. "I played with [former Gophers player] Marcus Carr in the same AAU program he did, so my AAU coach had a connection to Minnesota. They came down to watch a few games and offered me the first summer that I started playing."

Current Gophers coach Ben Johnson wasn't on staff at the time, but Johnson's predecessor Richard Pitino seemed to be "going through the motions" in recruitment, Edey said. "I didn't feel like the interest was there from them."

Now Johnson's Gophers (11-7, 2-7), like the rest of the Big Ten, have to scramble before playing Purdue to figure out game plans against arguably the most physically imposing center in college hoops.

Edey, who is averaging 32.6 points and 16 rebounds per 40 minutes this season, joined Boilermakers guard Jaden Ivey among 20 players listed for the John Wooden Award's late-season watch list this week.

"For the majority of us to have an opportunity to get a guy like Edey and someone with that size is small," Johnson said. "All of us would take someone who could play like that and make that big of a difference."

The timing couldn't be better for Gophers senior Eric Curry to be back from an ankle injury that caused him to miss three games before returning in Sunday's 66-60 loss at Wisconsin.

Freshman 7-footer Treyton Thompson is the U's tallest player, but he's more finesse. They need the 6-9 Curry's toughness inside. Curry also has experience against Edey and Purdue's 6-10, 260-pound senior Trevion Williams.

"You have to have at least two, maybe three bodies who are able to sub in there in case a guy gets an early foul," Johnson said. "But [Curry] has a good understanding of how to guard both him and Williams, which is what we'll need."

Edey's impact, combined with other towering post players under Painter, defies the trend that basketball has to mostly be perimeter oriented. Since 2012, Painter had 7-foot A.J. Hammons, 7-2 Isaac Haas and 7-3 Matt Haarms in the program, along with All-Americas like Caleb Swanigan.

Two years ago, Haarms had a career-high 26 points and nine rebounds in a double-overtime win against the Gophers in West Lafayette, Ind., but he transferred to Brigham Young. That made the Boilermakers speed up Edey's development instead of redshirting last season.

"When you can play significant minutes that matter, you can build confidence," Painter said Tuesday. "Zach finished some games. He got in the game and he was productive and he was consistent. Now he realizes that he belongs."

The Gophers defeated Western Kentucky in nonconference play with 7-5 Jamarion Sharp. They had success against Michigan's 7-1 Hunter Dickinson in a Dec. 11 win in Ann Arbor. But 7-foot Kofi Cockburn's 29 points led Illinois to a 23-point win Jan. 4 at the Barn. And Ohio State's undersized but tough big man E.J. Liddell had 25 points and 13 rebounds in the U's 75-64 loss last Thursday.

Purdue has arguably the deepest frontcourt in the country with Williams, who averages 12.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 3.0 assists, coming off the bench.

But the Gophers can bet Edey will be where the Boilermakers look first Wednesday, much like when the ball was too high on the backboard to reach.

"My role is to dominate the post every time I step out onto the floor," Edey said. "I know if I do that early, we're going to have a good start."