Yesterday I compared playing Wisconsin to performing your own circumcision with the help of Dwight Schrute. Playing the Badgers in Madison is about as excruciating of an experience. I have never figured out why, but the Kohl Center is a major home court advantage that few teams in this conference have figured out. As it stands, we are one of those teams. Even though they were 10-8 in conference play a year ago, seven of those wins came in their nine home games. We and Minnesota did not exactly have an easy time winning their, either. Coming into the season Wisconsin was 120-10 under Bo Ryan at the Kohl Center. Only Purdue and Illinois have won twice.
What does this mean? Does this mean the Badgers are due against us? That is hard to say. I do know they are already a little desperate coming in. Their loss in East Lansing this week puts them in a bit of a corner. Should they lose to Purdue they would already be two games behind Michigan State and the Boilers with a critical 0-2 against those team. This would not end their Big Ten championship dreams, but it would certainly hurt them. It would hurt them as much as a victory for us would give us a boost.
That said, I cannot forget the last time we started 14-0. We went up to Madison, played them in the old Fieldhouse, and lost.
2008-09 record: 20-13, 10-8 Big Ten (Lost to Xavier 60-49 in second round of NCAA Tournament
2009-10 record: 12-3, 2-1 Big Ten
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 102-62 (Purdue has won four straight)
Last Purdue win: 1/27/09 at Wisconsin 64-63
Last Wisconsin win: 1/17/07 at Wisconsin 69-64
The Badgers have one major stumble so far, but they are still a solid NCAA Tournament team. That means this is a chance for a quality road win. Since Alabama is a bubble team at best and Iowa will not be going to the NCAA's, this is our toughest game so far on an opponent's home floor. They have a 13 point loss to Gonzaga in Maui, this week's loss at Michigan State, and an 88-84 overtime loss at Wisconsin-Green Bay.
There are plenty of good wins to make up for the Green Bay loss though. Beating Maryland in Maui is a quality win. Beating Duke in Madison is obviously very good as well. The Badgers also have wins over Arizona, Marquette, and Ohio State (without Evan Turner). They are past the point where one loss knocks them out of the tournament. One win also won't get them. It is likely they are playing for a seed the rest of the way.
You know what you're going to get: Stifling defense, a war for every rebound, loose balls resembling rugby scrums. Maybe that is why we have played so well in Madison the last two seasons. We do not have to stretch our game as much because we play a similar style of tough, hard-nosed basketball. This is why I respect the Badgers more than I do any team from the Big East or ACC. They fight for every possession and grasp the concept defense makes winning easier. They understand the only thing that matters is that you have one more point than your opponent at the end of the game. Aesthetics be damned.
That is not to say Wisconsin can't score. Even with Wednesday's low-scoring affair in East Lansing the Badgers are averaging 70 points per contest. They still have capable scorers in Jon Leuer (16.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg), Trevon Hughes (15.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 2.9 apg), and Jason Bohannon (10 ppg). These three guys are all upperclassmen that have experienced the battles with Purdue the last two seasons.
Leuer is a good 3-point shooter (39.3%). His 6'10" frame makes it tough to challenge his shot, plus he can still go inside and bang around with anyone. He is much like former Badger Brian Butch. Hughes is a nice combo guard than can shoot from outside (40.3% from long range) or drive to create his own shot. He is coming off a season low seven points at Michigan State. Purdue has kept him relatively in check the last two years with games of 11, 4, 9, and 15. Bohannon is the best 3-point shooter on the team at 41.7%.
The Badgers are not a very deep team, and this could benefit us. Jordan Taylor (8.3 ppg, 3.5:1 assist-to-turnover ratio), Keaton Nankivil (7.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, Joe Krabbenhoft clone), Ryan Evans, and Tim Jarmusz are the only players other than the main three scorers that average more than 10 minutes per game. We'll probably also see Rob Wilson, but his contributions to the stat line are usually negligible.
Though Wisconsin only has a seven man rotation they are tough players. It will be very hard for us to wear them down with our usual defense because they are conditioned to wear down other teams. They have held teams under 58 points in each of their last six games. In seven of their games they have held opponents under 50. That includes Ohio State and Penn State in recent games. This is as tough of a defensive team as we will face all year.
Fortunately, Tuesday's game against Minnesota should help us in this regard, as should some of our previous games. We have faced some good defensive teams in Alabama, Tennessee, Minnesota, and even Iowa can play a little defense when they feel like it. I feel like we are well prepared for their defense because of that schedule. You also have to remember that our guys are used to facing tough defense in practice everyday. I'm sure Keaton Grant and Chris Kramer love bringing the ball up against Mark Wohlford or even a tenacious Dru Anthrop.
Where I do give the Badgers an edge is interior defense. Once again, our Achilles could be if JJ gets in foul trouble. We don't have anyone other than him to battle Leuer or even Nankivil. Those are their only main players with a ton of size, but they are a pair of tough forwards that can battle down low. This team misses the defensive intensity of Krabbenhoft.
Wisconsin is not a strong rebounding team. They rank 9th in the league on the glass and 10th in offensive rebounds. They shoot almost the same from the field as we do with a 5% edge in 3-point shooting. They are the only team in the league that is better than us defensively. They give up fewer points than we do, but we force almost six more turnovers per game.
Basically, if we can score against this team, we will win. As good as their defense is, it has some cracks. How else do you explain that Green Bay dumped 88 points on them? The Phoenix won that game by shooting 48% from the field, 50% from long range, and dragging them into a game that had a combined 70 free throw attempts. They also forced 18 turnovers and used their home crowd to an advantage.
We have to keep our notable poise in order to win this game. We can expect to be challenged early, but the poise that this Boilermaker team has was forged two years ago in our surprising upset at the Kohl Center. We learned how to win in a nasty environment that night. In fact, it wasn't that long before that game we couldn't win in ANY road environment. These players remember that they took a huge step forward on February 9th, 2008. It was almost a year after our first road win of any kind in three years. As long as we play as we are capable of playing we will move to 15-0 and notch another big victory toward a #1 seed.
Keys to the Game for Purdue:
- Contain Hughes' scoring ability
- Guard the perimeter, especially Hughes and Bohannon
- Match their defensive intensity
- Keep JJ out of foul trouble
- Win the boards
- Keep attacking
Purdue 64, Wisconsin 59