#5 Purdue will try to win the Big Ten outright, while Wisconsin tries to punch a ticket to March.
Purdue will finish its Big Ten schedule by playing two teams for the first and only time. First, Purdue will have to travel to Madison to take over Wisconsin Badgers.
#5 Purdue 24-5 (13-5) has one goal in mind – to win and win the Big Ten outright.
For Wisconsin, their future is a little murkier. They are 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, opening the season with an 11-2 record and non-conference wins over Maryland and USC before beating Maryland and Iowa in the conference. But as the competition grew, so did the losses.
But Purdue probably won’t take the Badgers for granted. Purdue went to Madison last year with hopes of winning the Big Ten and let one slip away on a last-second shot.
It helps that Purdue also enters this game struggling, with 4 of their 5 losses in the last six seasons. The No. 1 seed is still up for grabs for Purdue, but they’ll likely need to win their final two games and reach the Big Ten Championship to keep the No. 1 seed.
Matt Painter said today before Purdue’s trip to Wisconsin that as much as they expect everyone to get their best, it’s time for Purdue to give it their all in regards to their recent struggles.
It will take 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 still hadn’t practiced and coach Greg Gard hadn’t talked to the coaches about the injury.
Hepburn was Wisconsin’s best player, leading scorer and most experienced guard on the roster. Purdue will remember him for the 3-pointer that beat Purdue a year from today.
Hepburn can’t leave Gambling McGee he will be pushed into the starting lineup and an expanded role. The 6-0 sophomore’s game has been uneven this season, but he’s been playing his best basketball and feeling more comfortable over the past few weeks according to Gard.
But much of Wisconsin’s offense unlocks when Tyler Wahl is able to facilitate like a great man. He has struggled from three on the season, but is capable of diagnosing and dissecting defenses from the perimeter. Purdue will need to be sharp on the ball, especially when Wahl has the ball in his hands.
Where will Wisconsin’s points come from? Especially if Chucky Hepburn is absent.
Wisconsin has struggled to hit this year. They’re only 35% from three, but where they’ve really struggled is inside the arc. They struggled to get to the rim off the bounce and score effectively off the post. They are 331st in the nation in field goal percentage at 45.8%.
Even easy baskets were a struggle for Wisconsin. The Badgers made just 66.2% of their free throws.
Even in Purdue’s losses, Painter was pleased with Purdue’s defense and the shots they gave. Bad news for Wisconsin, Purdue’s defense specializes in giving up long two-point attempts from 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 only shoot 47% inside the arc.
Connor Essegian is Wisconsin’s most dangerous scorer. Despite only being a freshman, he is one of the best off-ball movers in the conference, capable of shooting on the move, from mid-range and from deep. He will be a name that will plague Purdue fans for the next four years.
Quotes by painters
“What happens is you always say you’re going to get everybody’s best shot. Well, they should get our best shot, too. That was really the focus of what we talked about with our guys,” Matt Painter said on Wednesday before of Purdue’s practice on Wednesday.
Purdue is officially in the part of the season where the focus is on the next game, but Painter admits the winning streak now extends into March.
“We’re also trying to secure a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. I think that’s a big thing for us if we can pull that off, that would be great. You want to put yourself in the best position possible. It doesn’t guarantee you anything, but you just want to continue to grow as a program and continue to put yourself in those positions to try to give yourself the best chance to continue to progress.”
With each year of experience in the Big Ten, Matt Painter seems to love and appreciate all the different environments in the Big Ten more and more. The Kohls Center in Wisconsin is no different.
“Educated basketball fans,” Painter said of the Kohls Center before adding the comedic star. “When I say that, I don’t always speak for the student sections.”
“Wisconsin is just a cool place, it just is,” Painter said of Madison. “It’s a great sports town and Madison is an amazing campus.”