In what could prove to be one of the biggest statement games of the Big Ten season, Wisconsin (12-3, 3-0) takes on #14 Purdue (11-4, 0-2) at Mackey Arena, a place the Badgers have only won once in 35 tries. Wisconsin is trying to solidify its top spot in the Big Ten. A statement victory on the road against Purdue would hush Wisconsin’s detractors. Purdue is trying to steady the ship after opening Big Ten play with two straight losses, including a home loss to Illinois. This is a bigger game for Purdue than it is for Wisconsin; they have games on the road against Minnesota and the Badgers before the month of January ends. A loss here could mean a 2-5 start for the Boilermakers. In a deep Big Ten, no game is a gimme.
The Badgers have started off conference play with a bang. They cruised to a road victory over Michigan, fended off a pesky Penn State team and man-handled Northwestern at the Kohl Center. They face their stoutest test Sunday, however. For the Badgers to win this game, they will need to continue to play at a high level defensively. They put the clamps on Northwestern, and although the Wildcats are a much weaker team and the Badgers were at home, Bo Ryan could not have been happier with the drubbing. No Wildcat reached double figures, and Northwestern shot 31.4% from the field. A key to this game will be whether Marcus Landry can outplay Robbie Hummel. In games where Landry scores in double figures, Wisconsin has gone 32-1, and that loss came nearly 2 years ago. Trevon Hughes has been clutch for the Badgers so far, but in big games he seems to disappear. That can’t happen if Wisconsin wants to be in this game. Wisconsin’s X-Factor is Joe Krabbenhoft. The 6-7 forward doesn’t always make it look pretty, but he is an aggressive rebounder that should be able to chisel away at the productivity of Hummel and JaJuan Johnson. The future of Wisconsin basketball is Jon Leuer. The super athletic forward can score from all over, and the most productive Badger (0.5 points/minute) will be called upon often. When Wisconsin’s second unit is in, usually featuring freshmen Jordan Taylor, Rob Wilson and Keaton Nankivil, Tim Jarmusz and either Krabbenhoft or Leuer, Wisconsin will need to hold their own. If the second unit can give Hughes, Landry and Jason Bohannon time to rest, the Badgers will hang in their down the stretch, and at the very least make this an interesting game.
Purdue desperately needs a win. If they fail, they go from Big Ten favorite to having an uphill battle to go dancing. The preconceptions of the Boilermakers need to be thrown out the window; they are in trouble. A win here remedies the situation, while a loss has Purdue plummeting in a downward spiral. Purdue usually employs a mid-range tempo, but against the Badgers, expect them to push it more to get Wisconsin off their game. For this reason, speedster Lewis Jackson will see more of the court. The key for Purdue is to get after it in transition, because if the Badgers get to play a half-court game, their winning chances increase. This starts with Chris Kramer. The reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year is an artist of the steal, and his skills will be utilized in the fast-break. However, he and Hummel will most likely be coming off the bench due to injuries (Hummel missed the Penn St game with a back injury, Kramer with foot issues). Running the offense is E’Twaun Moore. Often overlooked as the team’s second best player behind Hummel, Moore is just as essential to the Boilers success. He is sporadic at times, and not always the best decision maker, but is Purdue’s leading scorer. Purdue needs Jackson and Calasan to step up in case Hummel and Kramer are not 100% effective. Wisconsin’s Mackey woes will continue. No matter how good or how bad Purdue is, the Badgers can never seem to win there. Unless Hummel and Kramer are both out, which is not likely, Purdue will finally net its first Big Ten win.
Winner: Purdue Margin: 2-5 points