Final Four updates: Purdue coach Matt Painter seeks fair treatment by officials for Zach Edey

Purdue’s Zach Edey was a popular player during media availability at State Farm Stadium, two days before Saturday’s Final Four games. (Photo by Jonah Krell/Cronkite News)

The Alabama team bus awaits the arrival of players from the team hotel to take them to State Farm Stadium. (Photo by Brevan Branscrum/Cronkite News)

Former Arizona State men’s basketball player DJ Horne, now with NC State, attracted plenty of local media in the locker room. (Photo by Lucas Gordon/Cronkite News)

GLENDALE – Despite the travel woes with UConn, Purdue had a completely different experience: They were the first team in the Valley ahead of their matchup Saturday with the talk of the tournament, NC State.

The tone set by coach Matt Painter was evident: Stay focused on whom Purdue is.

“Just keeping a focus and really just talking through it more than anything (along with) owning the emotional piece of it. There’s nothing wrong with that (and getting back to) being process-based and get(ting) back to what we do,” Painter said.

With focus, comes attention to detail, and all eyes will be on superstar senior center and 2023 Wooden Player of the Year Zach Edey.

“He (Edey) sets a lot of ball screens for us, then he dives and we play through that, whether that’s transition, whether that’s sets, (or) whether that’s regular motion,” Painter said. “His physical presence causes a lot of problems. That’s why you see a lot of pushback with it because there are very few people that have that physical type of presence where you get people doing things against what they want to do.”

In fact, Edey is so good and dominant that he drew comparisons to Indiana’s legendary guard Yogi Ferrell.

“It’s a chore,” Painter said of guarding Edey anywhere on the court, and this chore will be on full display throughout Purdue’s run in hopes of a national championship.

Painter has made a concerted effort to communicate with officials to ensure Edey is treated fairly. He has even shared clips of non-foul calls on Edey’s shots with the Big Ten office.

“When he starts to get those fouls, he starts to get those things, (it’s) because they can’t handle his strength and his size,” Painter said. “I don’t think we need to apologize for that. That’s always my fight. My fight is just, ‘Hey, call it the same way.’ He’s so big, so think of it from this standpoint: 6-9, 250 is big (and) 6-9, 250 is seven inches shorter and 50 pounds lighter (than Edey). Digest that for a little bit.

“When you see a 6-7 guy and a 6-foot guy in a post-up – get him the ball, it’s a mismatch. So that’s all we’re trying to do is get that mismatch with him and then be able to play from there.”

– Addison Kalmbach and Jonah Krell

Travel woes for UConn

Unexpected stories come out of March Madness every year. Whether it’s No. 16 seed UMBC beating No. 1 seed Virginia in 2018 or No. 15 Saint Peter’s making a run to the Elite Eight in 2021, fans are always in for a surprise.

Crazy moments happen off the court, too. After clinching its second consecutive berth to the Men’s Final Four and looking to win its second national championship in as many years, the UConn Huskies encountered challenges traveling to Phoenix for its game Saturday against Alabama.

The team, which was supposed to leave Connecticut around 6 p.m. EST Wednesday, did not arrive in the Valley until 3:27 a.m. Arizona time Thursday after multiple delays due to mechanical issues and weather in the Northeast.

Due to the lengthy delay and early morning arrival, UConn’s closed practice on Thursday was canceled. Coach Danny Hurley will participate in a news conference at 3:20 p.m.

– Lucas Gordon

NC State has confidence

Speaking of surprises, NC State has won nine consecutive elimination games en route to a Men’s Final Four appearance. Despite the improbable odds of making it to Phoenix, coach Kevin Keatts believed in his team to keep on winning.

“We expected to be here,” he said. “I know people don’t believe that. But this is not in our mind as a team, this is not a fluke.”

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In preparation for the Final Four, Keatts is making sure his team is enjoying the moment. He wants his team to be completely focused by the time their matchup against Purdue comes on Saturday.

He compared this experience to checking into a hotel.

“Most of them ask you, ‘Are you here on business or pleasure?’” Keatts said. “I said if anyone asks you that, you need to tell them that you’re here for both. Today, I want it to be 50/50. Tomorrow I want it to be 75 businesses to 25. I want 100% business by the time we get to Saturday.”

Keatts revealed that Thursday’s practice is the only time he’s told his players to bring their phones out to the court with them and take pictures.

It is safe to say that the Wolfpack are making sure to make the most of their time in Phoenix.

– Lucas Gordon

Final Four tickets

The popularity of the Men’s Final Four is triggering high ticket prices.

The two must-watch games will feature DJ Burns-led NC State versus the dominant Zach Edey of Purdue. Alongside will be the first Men’s Final Four appearance by Alabama against the reigning champs in UConn. These matchups make the tickets not cheap. On Saturday, a ticket admits you to both games. As of early Thursday afternoon, StubHub listed the cheapest semifinal ticket at $400 on the terrace level. However, if you want to get closer to the court, one of the higher ticket prices in section 130 is going for $15,450.

Monday’s national championship game will have a different price scale. StubHub lists the cheapest ticket for the biggest game of the year at $187 on the terrace level. If fans are willing to pay though in section 129, which is close to the action, a ticket is going for $11,238, one of the higher prices for a ticket. Just like any large sporting event though, there will be unrealistic ticket prices. One ticket for the national championship game is listed at a whopping $45,900 in section 130.

The last time the Men’s Final Four was held in Phoenix was in 2017, and this year’s ticket prices are similar to the 2017 season. CBS Sports reports the average ticket price in 2017 for the semifinal games was $451 and the national championship game was $838.47.

– Lucas Gordon

Sweet Basketball Alabama

That’s right, Alabama is not just a football school this season. The Crimson Tide are familiar with the national championship spotlight, but for the first time in school history, the men’s basketball program is receiving all the attention during its first trip to the Final Four.

Coach Nate Oats has been an underdog his entire career, even when he was basketball coach at Romulus High School near Detroit, and he sees this theme permeating his current team.

“They all have a chip on their shoulder,” he said. “(Aaron) Estrada from Hofstra, Player of the Year, great league there. He didn’t play a ton at Oregon. Now he’s proven he can do it at this level on a team that can win and go to the Final Four. Grant Nelson and (Latrell) Wrightsell (Jr.), even Nick Pringle started at Wofford, only played in half the games his freshman year at Wofford.

“ I think all these guys are trying to prove they belong at this level, just like I am, to be honest with you.”

Oates reflected on Alabama’s season, adding, “We were an underdog (and) nobody expected us to be here. We weren’t playing our best basketball coming into the regular season (and) part of that is we weren’t healthy. The last time we had our full team healthy, we beat a really good (Texas) A&M team 100 to 75. Now that we made the run, get to the Final Four, I want our guys playing loose and free, but I want them thinking they got a chance to win.”

The underdog mentality just doesn’t start with Oates but with senior guard Mark Sears. Sears, an Alabama native and Second Team All-America, came to the Crimson Tide via the transfer portal, and he has changed the program for the better.

“We would not be in the Final Four if it wasn’t for Mark Sears’ defense and leadership, Oates said. “Like, he’s turned it around a lot in that regard in the last month. I think he made a decision, he wants to play as long as possible this year, (and) wants to put himself on a national stage.”

One thing is for sure: Sears is going to play fast and score often in hopes of an upset win Saturday night.

– Addison Kalmbach and Jonah Krell

News Reporter, Phoenix
Lucas Gordon LOO-kiss GORE-din
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Lucas Gordon expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in business and digital audiences. Gordon has interned at The Arizona Republic.

Mason Byers(he/him)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Mason Byers expects to graduate in December 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Byers has contributed to the East Valley Tribune.

Brevan Branscum(he/him/his)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Brevan Branscum expects to graduate in May 2025 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism.

Jonah Krell JOE-nuh krel (he/him/his)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Jonah Krell expects to graduate in May 2024 with a master’s degree in mass communication. Krell, who completed his bachelor’s in sports journalism in May 2023, has been a reporter for the Walter Cronkite Sports Network and play-by-play broadcaster for KASC Blaze Radio.