If the Wisconsin men's basketball team is to pull into a second-place tie in the loss column of the Big Ten conference race Tuesday, it is going to be because Bo Ryan's top pair comes up bigger than Purdue coach Matt Painter's does.
Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor (38.4 ppg) have snapped the belt away from Purdue seniors JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore (36.8) as the most potent scoring combo during Big Ten play. Fans (and those with All-Big Ten votes) are salivating over the Leuer-Johnson matchup, hoping for a true one-on-one battle between two slender, versatile 6'10" assassins.
The Boilermakers feature the top scoring offense in the league at an average pace while the Badgers have the Big Ten's best scoring defense at the slowest pace. Adjusted for tempo, Wisconsin and Purdue are second and third respectively in effective margin. Any way you slice it, No. 19/18 Wisconsin (15-5, 5-3 Big Ten) and No. 11/10 Purdue (18-4, 7-2) look like the two best teams in the Big Ten not named Ohio State.
Both teams are coming off of rough weeks, but the timing might be a little better for the Badgers. The Penn State loss is still fresh in their minds. Luckily for Wisconsin, Purdue already blew off steam from last week's Buckeye massacre in a 73-61 win over Minnesota on Saturday.
Johnson continues to lead the conference in scoring in Big Ten games (21.3) while improving his game in all facets this season. He has lengthened his range to 3-point land and maintains career high averages in scoring, rebounding, assists, and free throw percentage.
On the flip side, Leuer has gone through a couple tough shooting games but always winds up producing points in Wisconsin's system. The senior forward leads the Badgers in scoring overall (19.2), but Taylor leads the team during Big Ten play (20.3). The junior point guard's leadership, and increased scoring have media all over the nation taking notice.
But even though the focus will be on the big men, Moore would be just about the worst player Wisconsin could overlook. He has shot the ball poorly during league play (37.5%) and thus, taken a back seat to Johnson. However, Moore has picked up the slack by rebounding much better (5.7 rpg, up from 3.8 last season), dishing more and sticking threes (39.5%).
As you can see, Wisconsin and Purdue are both good shooters from distance, though UW prefers to fire them up much more often to take advantage:
The opposing third wheels in the equation are Wisconsin's Keaton Nankivil an Purdue point guard Lewis Jackson. In the two teams' last meeting, Jackson returned triumphantly from injury as the Boilers held off the Badgers, 60-57. That spoiled Nankivil's career-high 25-point performance as he hit 7-of-8 3-pointers. Nankivil has exploded for big games in each of the last two seasons, scoring 21 points two years ago by hitting all five of his 3-pointers. Nankivil has become more steady as a senior though and Purdue will definitely be game-planning for him.
Wisconsin hopes to avoid starting another losing streak against Purdue after the Badgers snapped a four-game slide last season when the Boilers last came to the Kohl Center.
Although Painter has had Ryan's numbers recently, he has shared the same difficulty finding the right starting lineup. While Ryan has settled on Tim Jarmusz and Josh Gasser with Mike Bruisewitz first off the bench, Painter is still tinkering. He inserted D.J. Byrd into the starting five against Minnesota, opting to bring sharpshooter Ryne Smith off the bench. Some combination of Byrd, Smith, and 6'9" freshman Travis Carroll likely will get the call tonight in support of Purdue's Big Three.