The Naysayer: Not A Big(s) Problem At Purdue

The Boiler 7-footers are great—just as long as they don’t play at the same time.

It’s tough to miss Purdue’s 7-footers, especially since vastly improved junior A.J. Hammons and space-eating freshman Isaac Haas have played Boilermakers onto a post-season path of late.

In spite of the height advantage Purdue usually enjoys, the Boilers have had trouble pulling down defensive rebounds and giving up second-chance scoring opportunities—two weaknesses that have kept games closer than needed.

So, if big is good and bigger is better, it might be tempting for coach Matt Painter to play both players at the same time. And as enticing as the idea may be, it is also, unfortunately, impractical.

On the positive side, with both in the paint, there wouldn’t be much room for anyone else. Haas alone weighs in at 297 pounds. With eight blocked shots against Indiana and seven against the Buckeyes, Hammons with Haas would all but eliminate any thoughts of driving to the hoop. The Boilers have out-blocked their opponents 128-71 this season. Hammons has already redirected 66 shots and Haas 20.

Starting both also would play into Painter’s occasional zone-defense plan. Painter, once a man-defense stalwart, has eased up in recent years, playing an occasional zone. A 1-2-2 or 2-1-2 would fit right into their wheelhouse. The two are big but not fleet of foot, so plugging them into a portion of the court would make sense and cut down on personal fouls, which H&H are averaging nearly 2.5 per game apiece. Painter probably feels all fuzzy inside when he looks at the bench and sees Haas or Hammons sitting there when one or the other is in foul trouble.

But beyond certain situations, playing the two together would be a mistake. For one, during defensive transition against smaller, more agile players, Haas and Hammons would struggle. This would be one area the opposition could exploit and easily score high-percentage shots against the Boilers. Playing in tandem would also serve as an impediment to Purdue’s offense. Lately, Painter has his charges in attack mode, which would prove difficult for these two. Endurance, execution, and good decision-making would all contribute to such a combo failing—and failing hard.

The victory over No. 20 Ohio State marks the third victory over a ranked opponent in the last two weeks. (Here’s looking at you, Hoosiers.) Add in a nice road win at Northwestern, and the Boilers stand at 7-3, good for second place in the Big Ten heading into Saturday’s game at Minnesota (BTN, 3 p.m.).

Mike Botkin, a.k.a. The Naysayer
Mike Botkin, a.k.a. The Naysayer

Although we may never see the big guys on the court together, that remains an interesting proposition. The old saying “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” most certainly applies now. But with five of Purdue’s next eight games on the road, there may come a time when some H&H needs to be added into the mix.


Photo of Haas and Hammons via Purdue Exponent

Mike Botkin is a lifelong Purdue Boilermakers fan and occasionally offers a dissenting opinion on IU hoopla.