It is always interesting when you face an opponent for the second time. For the past two years we have had the luxury of facing the Badgers in Madison after we faced them in Mackey Arena. I think that helped us grab the pair of victories we earned. We were more prepared to face their defense, knew their tendencies, and were more prepared to face them than normal. Thanks to the Big Ten Tournament, we now sometimes face an opponents three times in a season. Wisconsin is even the only opponent we have faced four times in one year. Back in 2000 we split the season series with each team winning at home, but Wisconsin beat us in the Big Ten Tournament, used that run to get to the NCAA's, then eliminated us in the Elite 8.
I am hoping that doesn't happen again. For one, I think the top four in the Big Ten have legitimate cases to be top four seeds in their respective regions. That would likely eliminate any pre-Final Four meetings. Second, I am not sure how the Badgers will fare as they continue to play without Jon Leuer.
Leuer was a virtual afterthought in our first meeting as Jordan Taylor went off to power the Wisconsin victory. It was also in that game that Leuer broke his wrist. I suspect it was on the play where he drove for the basket only to have his shot blocked and his wrist hit the padded part of the backboard. It looked bad in slow-mo, so that is where I guess it would happen. At least it was a clean play, but should have been called a foul.
As with many rematches, most of the keys from the first preview still stand. We know we're going to be in for a defensive battle, only this time we must feed off the home crowd rather than fight the opposition.
Last meeting: Wisconsin 73, Purdue 66
In short, we didn't hit our free throws and Wisconsin hit theirs late. That is all you really need to know. Purdue made it a point to get to the basket and draw fouls, but could not connect from the foul line once they got there. JaJuan Johnson was especially atrocious, going 1 for 7 when he is normally good for at least 5 for 7. If he hits his first half attempts the end game is much different and Purdue is not forced to foul as much.
Jordan Taylor was also a major factor. He only averages 9.3 points per game, but he hit big shot after big shot in scoring 23 against us off the bench. We even limited Leuer into 2 of 15 from the field, but couldn't stop Taylor. He took the game over when Travon Hughes got in early foul trouble. Hughes was big in the second half with a pair of clutch 3-pointers and a perfect 6 for 6 from the line.
E'Twaun had a good game for us, but he received little help. This was one of the first games where JJ was severely limited (7 points) and it showed as our offense stagnated. E'Twaun did everything he could in giving us 24. We dug ourselves too deep of a hole and Wisconsin nailed it shut from the line.
So what will be different this time around? First of all, we seem to have gotten over our free throw woes that cost us the Wisconsin and Ohio State games. I am fully confident that we would have won at least one if not both of those games had we not missed crucial free throws. We would then be a possible 18-1, 6-1 in the conference, and all this "the Big Ten title is gone" talk would be rubbish.
We're going to have to watch out for Jason Bohannon and Travon Hughes. I kind of view Taylor and Leuer as cancelling each other out the first time. I don't think he goes for 23 again, but I expected about that much from Leuer in Madison. Since Leuer won't be playing, it is one less weapon to prepare for. Keaton Nankivil is still a dangerous 3-point shooter. We have to watch out as Wisconsin is very patient about making the extra pass to find the open man on the perimeter. That means Nankivil, Bohannon, or Hughes could easily be that extra man. The driving ability of Hughes and Taylor is also dangerous.
This is a big game. Lose it, and I truly think any shot at the Big Ten is over. Win it, and we keep ourselves alive for another day. Since we're not losing to Penn State or Indiana it is very important to head to East Lansing at 7-3 in the conference. Wisconsin has found it difficult playing in Mackey Arena in recent years, and I think they will struggle without Leuer.
Finally, I think it is time to officially begin the LewJack watch. Coach Painter made it sound like he was very close to returning on Monday. I don't think we see him in this one because it might be too physical of a game for his first back, but there is always the possibility of him playing Sunday in what should be an easy win over a last place Penn State team.
Prediction: Purdue 67, Wisconsin 62