#5 Purdue will attempt to win the Big Ten outright while Wisconsin tries to punch its ticket to March.
Purdue will finish its Big Ten schedule playing two teams for the first and only time. First, Purdue will have to travel to Madison to take on the Wisconsin Badgers.
#5 Purdue 24-5 (13-5) has one goal in mind – win and clinch the Big Ten outright.
For Wisconsin, their future is a little more blurry. They’re 16-12 with an 8-10 record in the Big Ten. While Purdue looks to win the Big Ten by a game or two, the Badgers have been brutalized by conference play. Wisconsin got off to a hot start to start the season with an 11-2 record and wins over Maryland and USC in the non-conference before beating Maryland and Iowa in the conference. But as competition has ramped up, so have the losses.
But Purdue isn’t likely to take the Badgers for granted. Purdue last year went into Madison with hopes of winning the Big Ten and let one slip away on a last-second shot.
It helps that Purdue is also coming into this game struggling, with 4 of their 5 losses coming in their last six seasons. A #1 seed is still in line for Purdue, but they will likely have to win their last two games and get to the Big Ten Championship to hold onto the #1 seed.
Matt Painter said today ahead of Purdue’s trip to Wisconsin that as much as they expect to get everyone’s best shot, it’s time Purdue gives theirs with their recent struggles.
They’ll need their best to win on the road in one of the Big Ten’s best environments.
Chucky Hepburn Health
Hepburn’s health is still up in the air after suffering what appeared to be a non-contact knee injury against Michigan on Sunday. As of yesterday, Hepburn was still not practicing and coach Greg Gard had not talked to trainers about the injury.
Hepburn has been Wisconsin’s best play maker, leading scorer, and most experienced guard on the roster. Purdue will remember him for a banked in three that beat Purdue a year from today.
It Hepburn is unable to go, Kamari McGee will be pushed into the starting lineup and an expanded role. The 6-0 sophomore’s play has been uneven this season, but he’s been playing his best basketball and getting more comfortable over the last few weeks according to Gard.
But much of Wisconsin’s offense unlocks when Tyler Wahl is able to facilitate as a big man. He’s struggled from three on the season, but he’s able to diagnose and dissect defenses from the perimeter. Purdue will have to be sharp guarding off ball cuts, especially when Wahl has the ball in his hands.
Where will Wisconsin’s points come from? Especially if Chucky Hepburn sits out.
Wisconsin has struggled to score this year. They’re just 35% from three, but where they’ve really struggled is inside the arc. They’ve struggled to get to the rim off the bounce and to score efficiently from the post. They’re 331st in the country in field goal percentage inside the arc at 45.8%.
Even easy baskets have been a struggle for Wisconsin. The Badgers have made just 66.2% of their free throws.
Even in Purdue’s losses, Painter has been happy with Purdue’s defense and the shots they’re giving up. Bad news for Wisconsin, Purdue’s defense specializes in giving up long two point attempts outside the paint. Despite struggling in the win/loss column, KenPom now has Purdue’s defense ranked 18th in the country.
A big reason is that they defend the three-point line well, and teams are shooting just 47% from inside the arc.
Connor Essegian is Wisconsin’s most dangerous shooter. Despite being just a freshman, he’s one of the best off the ball moves in the conference, capable of making shots on the move, in the mid-range, and from deep. He’ll be a name that’s going to plague Purdue fans for the next four years.
“The thing that happens is like you always say you’re gonna get everybody’s best shot. Well they should get our best shot, too. That’s really been the focus of what we’ve talked to our guys about,” Matt Painter said on Wednesday before Purdue’s practice Wednesday.
Purdue is officially in the part of the season where the focus is on the next game, but Painter acknowledges that a win now also extends into March.
“We’re trying to secure a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament as well. I think that’s a big thing for us if we could be able to pull that off, that’d be great. You want to put yourself in the best possible position. It doesn’t guarantee you anything but you just want to keep improving as a program and keep getting yourself in those spots to try and give yourself the best chance to keep advancing.”
With each year of experience in the Big Ten, Matt Painter has seemed to grow fonder and more appreciative of all the different environments in the Big Ten. The Kohls Center in Wisconsin is no different.
“Knowledgeable basketball fans,” Painter said about the Kohls Center before adding a comical asterisk. “When I say that, I don’t always speak for student sections.”
“Wisconsin is just a cool place, it just is,” Painter said about Madison. “It’s a great sports town and Madison is an unbelievable campus.”