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At my signal, unleash hell

It has been a long, long time since I have been this excited about a Purdue basketball game. Why is it that these moments for the signature sports at Purdue seem to come in home games on national television against Wisconsin? I don't think there is quite as much at stake tomorrow as there was for the football team on that fateful day in October of 2004. Back then it was a make-or-break game for the football team and things fell apart after the loss. A loss here would be far from crippling and merely signal that the Boilers are still about a year away from truly contending. A win, however, would send a signal that we are ready to compete right now.

It is a testament to how far we have come since the Wofford game that Wisconsin views this game as their first real test in the conference. Back when the conference season first started many looked at this game as a stepping stone for the Badgers on their way to an undefeated matchup against Indiana next week. We now stand in the way of that game. The atmosphere at Mackey Arena tomorrow is going to be the best it has been in years. Therefore, I am making a challenge today: If you are one of the privileged 14,123 fans in attendance tomorrow you are not allowed to sit down at all. If you are a student you much show up with 3-4 friends and be prepared to scream for two solid hours. Wisconsin has one of the more difficult venues in the league, therefore we must return the favor and not let them breathe from the moment they come out of the tunnel for warm-ups.

Wisconsin so far:

For as much as I have been going on about making Mackey Arena as loud as possible, I don't think it will rattle Wisconsin. The Badgers come into this game at 16-2 and have already played at Duke and Texas. The Texas win is the most impressive to date, as Wisconsin showed a lot of poise late in the game to grab a nice road win at the buzzer. Considering that Texas owns a win over UCLA this year, it puts the Wisconsin loss in perspective. Michigan State and Missouri also beat Texas though, and we were able to compete with both of them away from Mackey.

The only two losses came in a blowout at Duke during the ACC/Big Ten challenge and at home to an up and down, but talented, Marquette team. Aside from those two games and the obvious Texas win Wisconsin hasn't really played anyone. They have gotten to 6-0 in the Big Ten by playing the bottom five of Michigan (twice), Illinois, Northwestern, Iowa, and Penn State. Outside the conference we only share one common opponent: Wofford. Wisconsin crushed the Terriers 70-43 in Madison on December 3rd. The rest of the non-conference schedule was built on the backs of blowouts, with only Georgia and Colorado being major opponents.

Who is dangerous for the Badgers:

In the recent past Wisconsin has been a team that has relied on defensive intensity to win games in good old-fashioned Big Ten slugfests. This season, however, Wisconsin has been able to score plenty as they are averaging nearly 71 points per game while holding opponents to a Big Ten best 54.4 points per game. Their defensive average is more than four points better than the #2 team in the conference (Iowa). The only two times Wisconsin has surrendered more than 66 points in a game came in both losses to Duke and Marquette, in which they gave up 82 and 81 respectively. Just three other teams (Texas, Illinois, and Michigan) have even cracked 60 against them.

Wisconsin is also extremely balanced in scoring, but not quite as much as us. Three players (Sophomore Trevon Hughes, Senior Brian Butch, and Junior Marcus Landry) are averaging in double figures with Senior Michael Flowers just outside of double figures at 9.4 per game. They are extremely experience, especially Butch who seems to be in his 12th season for Wisconsin. You would think that Butch would have had great games against us over the past few years, but we have been able to keep him out of double figures each time we have faced him. Landry has also been historically kept in check by us, and Hughes did not play in last season's game. Butch is the team's best rebounder, and ranks 6th in the conference overall.

What not to fear from Wisconsin:

Wisconsin is one of those teams that is very fundamentally sound and will not beat themselves. They are one of the better shooting teams in the league, but with their size that is natural because they are able to take a lot of high percentage shots. They are equal to us in turnovers and even lead the league in fewest fouls per game. Essentially we're not going to get any help from turnovers, they aren't going to foul us and out us on the line, and they are going to play defense right in our shirts. What do they do wrong?

In just looking at the defensive statistics for Wisconsin the numbers are eye-popping. Only Ohio State is making teams shoot worse from the field. Their size inside with Butch, Jon Leuer, and Greg Stiemsma could create match-up problems on both ends as all three are over 6-10 and play significant minutes. Hughes is incredibly saavy as both a scorer and a distributer. The only game that he missed was the win over Texas, and he also leads the team in steals.

General Outlook:

I have had a generally pessimistic, wait and see attitude towards this team so far this year. Since I started writing on basketball I have repeatedly stated that the goal for this season should be to just make the tournament, learn along the way, and compete for a championship next year. We appear to be solidly on that track, so what is wrong with going for it early in terms of competing for the Big Ten? Teams are given so few opportunities to compete for championships, therefore, we must take advantage of this one.

Wisconsin is too disciplined and too well coached to be looking ahead to next week's game against Indiana. I am encouraged that Michigan was able to give them quite a game earlier this week in the Kohl Center, but you can be sure we have their full attention. We will not face a better defensive team this season, but we showed on Wednesday night that we can play a little defense of our own. They will not beat themselves, so any victory earned will be because we came out and outplayed them.

A major key will be our ability to share the ball, find the hot hand, and score early. Wisconsin has struggled against the teams on their schedule that can score with some consistency, and if we have another dry spell like we did against Illinois, Iowa, or FIU we will be in serious trouble. We must overcome them with balance and team play, because that is what they want to do with us. As much as the crowd will be in it I don't expect them to be rattled, but Duke gave us a blueprint on how to beat them by jumping on them early. Of course, several great teams have gone to Duke and melted in the face of the Crazies.

I really, really want us to get this game and I feel like we have the ability to go out there and stun them, but we're long overdue for a lapse in play and have, "a case of the freshmans." I also don't like that we have started games slowly in the Big Ten, with the last game at Penn State more of an exception than a rule. I am going to go with Wisconsin in this one because I don't think we're quite ready, but this team has surprised me before. Wisconsin 62, Purdue 55.

If we lose though, I dare Matt Painter to challenge Bo Ryan in a Pants off/Dance off