For Purdue basketball fans, perhaps tonight's game with Indiana can give them a glimpse not just of the type of strong program that they want of their own, but also having it guided by a dominating post presence, such as the one that their hated-rival employs.
The third-ranked Hoosiers (18-2, 6-1 Big Ten) will visit the Boilermakers (11-9, 4-3) tonight at 8:30 p.m. (Big Ten Network).
Indiana has a pair of All-America candidates in its arsenal, but the most recognizable weapon in this state is 7-foot sophomore Cody Zeller. There aren't many programs in the country that can match a player such as Zeller physically, but Purdue is one of those few.
“A.J. can learn from Cody Zeller is the same things that anybody can learn from Cody Zeller,” Boilermaker coach Matt Painter explained, “and that is to stay on even keel, play hard, play to your strengths, run hard every single time, and do whatever it takes for your team to win.”
Zeller demonstrated that will for success on Sunday in Indiana's victory over Michigan State. In the final 2:13 of the Hoosiers' 75-70 victory, Zeller blocked a shot, scored on a driving lay-in to put his team ahead (74-70), grabbed a rebound, and took a decisive charge from Spartan Adreian Payne with 14 seconds remaining in the game.
“Cody has always sacrificed for his team,” Painter said. “He rebounds at a high level and he competes at a high level. Sometimes that gets lost when you talk about him. He's a guy that lays it on the line every single night.”
“A.J.” is Purdue freshman center A.J. Hammons, and though he too, is a 7-footer, Painter believes that the two players are different in styles, as well as physically.
“I would say that A.J. is a true post, while Cody – especially at the next level – a (power forward),” Painter said. “That would be a fair assessment because of Zeller's ability to shoot the basketball, drive the basketball, and play in the post.”
Hammons has 35 pounds on Zeller, but as Painter mentioned, the Indiana player has an advantage in agility.
“There is going to be an adjustment for A.J. in playing against Cody,” Painter said. “Cody can do so many things.”
What Painter said that he would most like for Hammons to take away from his initial meeting with the Hoosier star is the consistent effort that Zeller shows, which if Hammons can learn to do that, Purdue will become far more successful.
“For us to be successful, A.J. has to be consistent,” Painter said. “He understands that. With that being said, he's really made a lot of improvements.”
Cody Zeller made an immediate impact at Indiana last season as a freshman. Here is how Purdue freshman center A.J. Hammons is stacking up compared to Zeller's first season of college basketball:
Points - (Zeller) 15.6 per game (Hammons) 9.7 per game
Rebounds - 6.6 per game 5.3 per game
Blocks - 42 40 (through just 20 games)
Minutes - 28.5 per game 23.4 per game
Field goal percentage - 62.3 50
Free throw percentage - 75.5 50.7