Gophers pregame: Walker poised for clash with Purdue’s talented big men

Jack Satzinger

Minnesota at Purdue

Tip-off: 2:15 p.m. CT 

T.V.: Big Ten Network 

Before the season started, Minnesota’s Big Ten opener at Purdue on Wednesday projected to be a mouth-watering matchup between two of the conference’s best low-post scorers: Mo Walker and A.J. Hammons.

Hammons torched the Gophers for 20 points and 14 rebounds last season as a sophomore and looked poised to break out as the Big Ten’s top back-to-the-basket big man in 2014-15. Walker, after losing more than 60 pounds before last season, was touted as Minnesota’s primary option inside. Gophers head coach Richard Pitino went as far as saying there’s “no reason” Walker can’t become one of the conference’s top three big men after Hammons and versatile Wisconsin center Frank Kaminsky.

But Walker's name is no longer mentioned after Hammons' when discussing the Big Ten's best centers.

Walker has become a cornerstone of Minnesota’s offense, tallying 12 points and 5 boards per contest, and leads qualified Big Ten players in field-goal percentage.

Hammons is 19th nationally and first in the Big Ten with 2.92 blocks per game, but has taken a painful step back. His block numbers are slightly down from last season and he’s averaging the fewest points and rebounds per game of his three-year career. He’s also only making 45-percent of his field-goal attempts.

“Most of my mistakes are my own mistakes mentally. Just probably getting down on myself,” Hammons told reporters earlier this week.

Hammons is still an effective player, but he's not a top conference big man right now. Freshman center Isaac Haas took Hammons’ starting spot and leads the Boilermakers with 11.5 points per game.

After going toe-to-toe with each other last year, Walker’s matchup with Hammons on Wedensday has lost some juice. But the Gophers center should have his hands full when facing the 7-2 Haas. Wednesday’s contest will still feature some of the conference’s best big men going at it — just not the way many thought it would before the season began.