Since Wisconsin had its last game that received national attention coming in, the No. 13 Badgers have reeled off nine consecutive wins to get themselves back into the natoinal top 15. Sunday afternoon, they’re coming into Mackey Arena looking like the class of the Big Ten that everyone expected. And as expected, a major nemesis to them winning the Big Ten still looks like No. 20 Purdue. This afternoon’s game has conference and potentially national implications. Let’s see how it breaks down.
The Caleb Swanigan vs. Ethan Happ matchup is likely going to be the battle that gets you watching. Swanigan’s a demon on the defensive glass who is a surprisingly sharp shooter for a big man, as he’s one of Purdue’s five players currently shooting 40 percent or better from beyond the arc, and is shooting 77 percent from the free-throw line. He’s absolutely star caliber, but Happ presents the first time that Swanigan will be facing someone who can rival his skills on the glass, and while he’s a lesser shooter, he can make hay with his agility on the block.
What to watch for would be the foul situation. Purdue has the 7’2, nigh-300 pound Isaac Haas to be the center if Swanigan has a concern. He’s averaging 13.4 points and 5.5 rebounds in just under 22 minutes a game. In fact, when you consider that Charles Thomas IV and Alex Illikainen are the Badgers’ first options off the bench in the low post, you might see Haas and Swanigan get fed early in an attempt to get the Badgers’ star big man into foul trouble.
Beyond the big men, Purdue will use ball movement to see if it can’t find the open three-point shooter. The Boilermakers are currently second in the nation in assists (with no one averaging four or more) and seriously have five shooters who are at or above 40 percent from beyond the arc getting at least 20 minutes of playing time. It doesn’t matter if it’s Vince Edwards, Dakota Mathias, P.J. Thompson or Ryan Cline. They get open, they can make you pay.
The Badgers do have the defensive discipline to limit the Boilermakers getting open, and start defensive model citizens beyond Happ. Nigel Hayes shutting down Vince Edwards could be most helpful early. And whatever help Vitto Brown can provide down low or the judicious use of Khalil Iverson can be what puts the Badgers over the top.
Short story longer, this is a game with a simple key: who defends better, who forces the other team into the most mistakes. Wisconsin has had several games with lengthy sequences of lackadaisical play. Purdue’s offense has a high level of reward, but the Boilermakers also play a style where a good defense can limit them beyond bad luck. I suppose the major question is what style of play the Badgers go into decides the winner. Despite its recent hot shooting from beyond the arc, Purdue is better from three. If it’s a shootout, it fits Purdue’s style perfectly. If the Badgers are patient, they have a better chance to win.
Either way, it feels like a game where the first team that gets to 70 wins. It’s not unreasonable that the Badgers go into this game as an underdog, but it’s not unreasonable to think the Badgers can win this in West Lafayette, either.
When and where is the game?
The game tips off at 3:30 p.m. CT at Purdue’s Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Ind.
How can I watch?
The game will be broadcast nationally on CBS. Ian Eagle and Bill Raftery have the call.
How can I stream the game online?
How can I listen to it on the radio?
On the Badger Radio Network, where Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas will have the call. On Satellite radio, you’ll find the broadcast on Sirius 84/XM 84. Otherwise, head to BadgerSportsNetwork.com to find it. You can also listen on iHeartRadio (iOS/Android/online) by searching WIBA.