Game of the Night: No. 16 Wisconsin at No. 10 Purdue
With February right around the corner, the stretch drive is officially here in college basketball. Some conferences are at the mid-point in league play, meaning it’s time for teams to start making moves with an eye towards the NCAA Tournament. Thursday is a perfect example of that, with plenty of solid battles. The best one, however, is a Big Ten showdown between Wisconsin and Purdue, two teams chasing Michigan State in the conference standings. Wisconsin (16-4, 6-2 in the Big Ten) won the first meeting between the two teams, knocking off the Boilermakers, 73-66, in Madison. The Badgers have also defeated Duke, Ohio State, Maryland, Northwestern, Marquette and Arizona, although they have a loss to Wisconsin-Green Bay on the resume as well. On the other side, Purdue (16-3, 4-3) had lost three in a row in Big Ten play before winning its last two games heading into Thursday. The Boilermakers own big wins over West Virginia, Tennessee and Wake Forest, as well as victories over Alabama, Illinois and Minnesota.
Wisconsin has looked like a different team without forward Jon Leuer, the team’s second-leading scorer who has missed the last four games with a broken wrist. In his absence, guard Jordan Taylor has gotten the starting job; he’s a solid all-around player who can do a little of everything. Guard Trevon Hughes has had a huge senior season, averaging 16.4 points per game and hitting 40.4 percent of his threes. Shooter Jason Bohannon is also averaging double-figures. Swingman Tim Jarmusz also starts on the perimeter, while big man Keaton Nankivil holds down the fort inside. Wings Ryan Evans and Rob Wilson get double-figure minutes off the bench for the relatively thin Badgers.
Purdue has everything a team needs to make a deep run in March – except for a consistent point guard. With Lewis Jackson missing the entire season, Keaton Grant has tried to play the role, but he is better-suited to play off the ball. Chris Kramer starts next to him; he is a defensive stopper who might play harder than anyone in the country. Leading scorer E’Twuan Moore can really fill it up on the offensive end, and can carry the Boilermakers. Robbie Hummel is one of the most versatile players in the country, and JaJuan Johnson is a go-to option in the paint for Purdue. Purdue utilizes its bench well, bringing Kelsey Barlow and Patrick Bade off the pine up front, with shooters Ryne Smith, D.J. Byrd and Mark Wohlford also seeing minutes.
This is going to be a half-court contest filled with plenty of banging in the paint. The interesting match-up will be Purdue’s lockdown defender, Chris Kramer, against Wisconsin’s go-to scorer, Trevon Hughes. If Kramer can shut Hughes down, Wisconsin will be in trouble. Also, will the Jon Leuer-less Badgers be able to hang with Robbie Hummel and JaJuan Johnson up front? On the other side, will Wisconsin’s tough defense combined with Purdue’s point guard problems make for a rough night offensively for the Boilermakers? I think that Kramer will slow down Hughes, and Hummel and Johnson could have monster games up front. Don’t forget E’Twaun Moore, either.
Prediction: Purdue 68, Wisconsin 61
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