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This is what we’ve been waiting for…

Two weeks ago was the biggest game for Purdue basketball in a long time. The triumph in West Lafayette, which I admit was questionable with the no call on Robbie Hummel at the end, has set up round two in Madison tomorrow night. If possible, the stakes are higher now than two weeks ago. The winner will have the inside track to the Big Ten title, while the loser will have to play catch up and hope for some help in the last seven games. In monitoring the Purdue boards recently there has been a lot of chatter from both Wisconsin and Indiana fans leading up to this game. I am not sure if it is out of fear that we may indeed be back among the conference elite, jealousy that we're getting it done with freshmen, or merely the act of a few individuals trying to stir up trouble. Regardless of what it is Saturday night has the potential to be a huge night for Purdue basketball.

Since Wisconsin survived at Iowa Wednesday night and Illinois closed things out last night like Mitch Williams closed out game 6 of the 1994 World Series we're going to have to take care of our own business rather than get any immediate help. With the exception of the Indiana game, the Wisconsin game is the most difficult game on the schedule. It is possible we can come away with a win, but we must play our best game of the season.

Since we last saw Wisconsin:

Wisconsin has played three times since they lost their only Big Ten game in Mackey Arena, and all three times the Badgers have dominated physically in grinding out a win. This past Wednesday Iowa had them on the brink in Iowa City, but the Badgers pulled away on free throws at the end. The Hawkeyes kept things close throughout the second half, but when it mattered most they could not pull ahead. The final six point margin was a result of timely free throw shooting and a few key Iowa misses in the final minute when they had to shoot 3-pointers. Iowa even led at the half in this, as the Badgers are probably as glad as we are that they are done with the Hawkeyes for now.

In the other two games Wisconsin won a rivalry game at the Barn in Minneapolis 63-47 and thumped Indiana in Madison 62-49. Both wins were quite impressive, as Minnesota has played the better teams in the conference tough at home, while Indiana was undefeated in conference play at the time. They have taken the Purdue loss to heart and have played very well since then. The Iowa game is simply understandable because Iowa is playing everyone that tough of late.

Wisconsin has continued to be the best defensive team in the league. Eric Gordon was kept five points below his league leading average in the Indiana game, while Wisconsin kept teams below their 54.1 per game average in all three games. So far in Big Ten play as a whole only Illinois, Michigan, and Purdue have even reached 60 points against them. It should also be noted that Indiana is leading the Big Ten in scoring at more than 77 points per game, but Wisconsin held them to their lowest outing of the season at 49.

Iowa had some success against Wisconsin because they were able to contain Trevon Hughes. It seems as if he has taken his miss/block at the end of the Purdue game personally, as he dropped 16 on Minnesota and 20 on Indiana last week. Iowa held him to just four points though, his worst game of the season. Brian Butch continues to play well when it comes to scoring, but his rebounding numbers have been way down. He had 13 rebounds in a dominant effort against us, but only eight total rebounds in the three games since. Marcus Landry has also been playing well lately. The only game in which he did not reach double figures in the last eight was against Purdue. We did a fantastic job against him, holding him to just five points. History says we will not be so lucky the second time around. In the first game against Iowa he only had 5 points and 6 rebounds. Wednesday in round two he had 16 and 6.

I am honestly a little scared of this game because of how well Wisconsin has been playing on both sides of the ball. They are achieving offensive balance that is very similar to our own, and their defense has stepped it up another notch. We are also coming in wounded, with Scott Martin a likely game time decision and Keaton Grant struggling with his shot. Wisconsin also always plays with a ton of confidence in the Kohl Center, and in the latest polls they are rated #8 in the country.

Game Outlook:

A positive first: No matter what happens, we have already guaranteed at least a split with them. Because of that we have very little to lose other than a game in the standings. There is a ton we can gain in terms of being in first place by ourselves, toppling a top 10 team for the first time in almost 4.5 years, and securing a higher seed in the NCAA tournament. Even a loss does not totally eliminate us from the Big Ten race, as Wisconsin still must visit Indiana and Ohio State. Some may say we have an easy road by only having to play fellow contender Indiana once, but Wisconsin has a similar road having to only face Michigan State once. Michigan State also must come to the Kohl Center, and they have already proven to not be a good road team.

All that being said, winning tomorrow night's game will be very difficult. Against the Badgers in Mackey Arena we played a very team-oriented game and they were still able to dominate the paint. Butch was especially good, as he had one of his better games this season. I still don't understand why Wisconsin did not go to him on the final play, but I am thankful they didn't. Should Butch continue his dominant play against us and Landry gets more involved in the offense the degree of difficulty on this win will increase exponentially.

To have a chance we have to equal their defensive intensity. We cannot let Landry and Butch dominate in side while Hughes does everything outside. We can't let Hughes slash into the paint either, because he will either finish at the hole or draw the defense to him for an easy dump off to Landry or Butch. Those dumpoffs lead to thunderous dunks, and thunderous dunks ignite crowds. Landry had a horrible game against us in West Lafayette, and we need him to do that again.

We must also continue to get everyone involved with the offense. In round one we had a fairly even distribution of points, plus 15 assists on 21 baskets. That has been the key to our success in this run, and it must continue. Indiana struggled against Wisconsin because it became the D.J. White and Eric Gordon show while everyone else stood around and watched. Wisconsin is simply too good to beat with just a two man game. White and Gordon had 38 of Indiana's 49 points to prove that theory. Since we have better offensive balance right now we have a chance, but a chance is only good if you take advantage of it. We must continue that offensive balance and continue not playing like a bunch of freshmen and sophomores.

We have handled crowds well at Michigan State, Illinois, Clemson, and Missouri (except the last seven minutes). Those games have prepared us for games like this, so the next step is to go in and get one of these types of games. Losing this game would be far from a step back, but winning it would be a giant leap forward. Personally, I don't think we are quite ready for that yet because Wisconsin is awfully good at defending their home court. I'll give them the edge here, but I have been wrong about this team before. Wisconsin 60, Purdue 54