He is the best shot-blocker in the conference, the type of player that changes games, and a center any coach would love to build a team around. At 7'0" he is hard to miss and after seeing him play he is hard to forget, and the Purdue Boilermakers are lucky to have him. But, what if he wasn't there for his team? Not just for half, or a game, but this whole season.
A.J. Hammons missed Sunday's exhibition against UNOH. Well, he didn't really miss it, he got to see the whole thing. His seats were really great seats too, right next to the recently redshirted Basil Smotherman, on the bench. There is not doubt Hammons is in the doghouse, but the reason why has been hard to nail down. After the exhibition, coach Matt Painter said "He has to take care of some business, like I've talked about, and if he does that, he will." It seems clear that A.J. didn't break any NCAA rules or anything major, and should be back soon, if not by Friday.
But, for the fun of it, let's discuss how this season might go if he never got back on the court. There's no doubt Purdue has other talent at the 5. Isaac Haas is even bigger than Hammons, but while his lateral quickness and shot-blocking ability seem improved after watching the UNOH game, it is still no match for A.J.. Caleb Swanigan is quicker than he looks and can score and rebound with the best of them, but he is still just a freshman and has been practicing at the 4 most of the time. We here at BTP voted Hammons as the #4 player in the Big Ten, and you just can't replace a guy like that.
Without Hammons, Haas will likely start at the 5 with Swanigan at the 4, like they did against UNOH. One problem with that is Haas can probably only play 25-30 minutes a game at max. Swanigan moved to the 5 when Haas went out on Sunday, but without Hammons there would no doubt be times when both would have to come out. This leaves the Boilers either playing small or relying on Jacquil Taylor. Taylor is a decent player, but he is very raw and didn't see much time in the exhibition until the game was already in hand. Without Hammons I would expect Smotherman to burn his redshirt and fill in at the 4 along with Vince Edwards.
These changes would lower the Boilermakers' ceiling for this season. I would expect them to drop out of the preseason talk for the Big Ten title and drop back to the battle for sixth with Ohio State, Northwestern, and Iowa. Purdue would be very similar to last year's team with two good big men, but not enough behind them to allow for them to play together. Swanigan obviously is more flexible than Hammons when it comes to where on the floor he can play, but he doesn't bring the same quality defense that A.J. does. Purdue would still be an NCAA Tournament team, but I'd see them as a bubble team looking at a 9-seed at best.
Hammons erases mistakes on defense and draws attention on offense. His loss would put more pressure on the guards and take away some of their ability to take chances on both sides of the ball. Thankfully, this is all hypothetical and I expect Hammons to be back on the court by Friday, or by the Hall of Fame Tip Off at the latest.