The No. 24 Wisconsin Badgers (10-2 overall, 1-1 Big Ten) men’s basketball will play a rare Monday night game when they travel to the house of horrors that is Mackey Arena to take on the No. 3 Purdue Boilermakers (12-1 overall, 1-1 Big Ten).
With the holidays, the bowl game and the Badgers only playing one game in the past 20 or so days, I’ve been kind of out of the loop on basketball recently. Thankfully, our pal Travis Miller from Hammer and Rails was free to answer our questions about the Boilermakers and their dominant offense.
Here are his answers!
Wisconsin is pretty good on defense this year, and most years to be honest, but Purdue’s offense is special this season. Is there anything that can be done to slow down Trevion Williams and Zach Edey down low outside of getting both of them into foul trouble?
That’s a very good question. Edey started hot, but has slowed a little bit of late. He is still physically dominant against pretty much any opposition and if he gets the ball on the block one-on-one, good luck! He is an incredible luxury to have when you can just throw the ball his way a few times per game and he is going to just go up and dunk it.
Then there is Tre. He is going to mess around and get a triple double some time this season. He has also become nearly impossible to guard one-on-one, but for different reasons. He has all the post moves, but he can now take the ball to the basket from the wing. He is also probably the best passing big man in the country. Look at the NC State comeback. Purdue was in deep trouble, but Tre put the team on his back and had a 22-12-9, missing a triple double by one assist and he added four blocks too.
He just has these games now where he completely takes over and demolishes opponents. If Purdue is hitting when he passes, it can be game over. He even has a game-winning basket to his credit right now if Ron Harper Jr. doesn’t throw in that heave. Finally, his ability on the offensive glass is worth another 4-6 points per game just by keeping possessions alive or getting put backs.
The super annoying thing about Purdue is: say you do magically slow down Williams and Edey...they’ve probably just been kicking it out to Jaden Ivey and Sasha Stefanovic (among others) to rain threes on your head. No real question here besides, uh, what the hell?
Things got a little dicey in the Rutgers and NC State game because Purdue wasn’t hitting from outside and the offense kind of gummed up. My largest concern right now is this team’s ability to finish away from home. Against Rutgers Purdue had a five point lead at the last media timeout. Last year at Minnesota and at Maryland it was in a similar position. Even at home against Iowa this year we suffered a near monumental collapse.
As you said, having Williams and Edey is an incredible luxury and holding both in check at the same time is a monumental task. They can just go get a basket when needed so easily, and beyond Ivey and Stefanovic, Isaiah Thompson, Mason Gillis, and Brandon Newman have shown they can hit the open looks that come within the offense. Ivey can also break you down with his speed and passing and open up so many things. He has this ability to just say, “okay, I am going to go do a highlight dunk right now and there isn’t much you can do about it”.
The one caveat I have about this Purdue team is it is struggling to defend the perimeter. Nicholls lit us up a bit from outside and if they had any answer whatsoever defensively for Edey and Williams that could have been trouble. Iowa did a bit of the same. Rutgers and Iowa also both got real physical with us and tried to drag it into a rock fight to varying levels of success. If Wisconsin can get physical and Purdue is off from outside, you’ve got a shot. The real truth is that if Purdue gets its offense going and plays to its full capabilities you just have to hold on because it is impressive.
Anyone else Wisconsin fans should be wary of on offense for Purdue?
Isaiah Thompson has played a very underrated role this year and often gets forgotten. He is the younger brother of former starter PJ Thompson and has carved a nice role of “I am going to take 3-4 completely uncontested threes per game”. He is shooting a smoking hot 52.5% (21 of 40) from three, and has the capability to hit 3-4 and suddenly give you something else to worry about.
Mason Gillis and Caleb Furst have also played a great rotation at the four. Gillis is your typical “do everything” Purdue forward in that he is an excellent free throw shooter, he can rebound, he can hit the open three, he can play defense, and he has an uncanny ability to know when to cut to the basket for a backdoor pass from Williams. It is not uncommon for him to only score 2-4 points, but have a number of other plays where he has a major effect on the game.
Furst has hit a bit of a freshman wall, but played very well early in the season. Both remind me of a slightly better version of Robbie Hummel. For the most part, Furst and Gillis have been as interchangeable as Williams and Edey, giving Purdue another position where there is no drop off when someone is subbed out.
The Badgers aren’t exactly known for scoring a ton of points in most games while Purdue has scored 90 or more in over half of their games. How can UW attack Purdue’s defense to try and keep this one close?
As I said, Purdue has struggled a little with its perimeter defense. Teams can get hot from three if they rotate the ball and find the open man. Nicholls decided to chuck it early and often and got to 90 points by going 16 of 35 from three. The only reason Purdue won is because it got 30 points, 16 rebounds, 12 assists, and three blocks combined from Edey and Williams. Also, Jaden Ivey was hot.
There can also be value in just taking it right at Edey and Williams to try and draw early fouls. Get physical when you’re on defense and try to disrupt as much as you can so Purdue doesn’t get into a flow. The tough reality though is Purdue legitimately goes 10 deep and can hockey style line change.
The player who has arguably played the worst of the 10 is Eric Hunter Jr., who is a senior that was part of the Elite 8 team, has a B1G title under his belt, and has been through the wars. You almost have to hope Purdue just has a game where it struggles from three (and it can happen), because honestly, when we’re playing to our full capability, I don’t know of many teams that can keep up.
Let’s get a couple of predictions: who wins and who is the leading scorer for the Boilermakers?
It’s Wisconsin in Mackey and I know it has long been a house of horrors for the Badgers. Congrats on getting your fifth win there all-time last season in the NCAAs, so at least it only extended to when you play Purdue there! As excited as I am for this team I am still the pessimistic Purdue fan and I just wait for something bad to happen every game. It is probably a little early in the year for it, honestly, as we usually wait until February or March for something to go horrifically wrong. This is a team that is probably the best in my lifetime because it combines talent, experience, and depth better than any other team I have seen in West Lafayette.
I have a hard time seeing us losing at Mackey this year. This team is just too good and when get Mackey really gets going it makes even the best teams wilt, but this is a non-Paint Crew game and we have a history of laying an egg in that first week of January home game. I think Purdue takes this one in the 5-10 point range and either Edey or Williams leads the way.