It’s been one year and one day since guard Chucky Hepburn banked in a game-winning three-pointer to propel the No. 10 Wisconsin Badgers over the No. 8 Purdue Boilermakers and win a share of the Big 10 title last season.
With that win, the Badgers completed their first-ever regular season sweep of the Boilermakers in a tremendous season that ended with them winning another Big 10 title under head coach Greg Gard.
Fast-forward to the current day, and the Badgers are facing the Boilermakers once again, this time under far different circumstances.
Purdue has been the clear contender in the Big 10 conference, spending several weeks amongst the top rank in the Top 25, while the Badgers have significantly cooled off after an early 11-2 start to the season.
Nonetheless, this regular season game shares importance with both teams, as the Boilermakers are looking to secure the full share of the Big 10 title and a rebound after their loss to the Indiana Hoosiers at home, while the Badgers are trying to keep their postseason hopes alive with some form of consistency.
DraftKings Sportsbook currently lists the Badgers as four-point underdogs against the Boilermakers, with an over/under placed at 128 points. Will the Badgers cover the spread?
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See DraftKings.com/sportsbook for details.
Here’s what you need to know about the Badgers’ opponent on Thursday.
The Purdue Boilermakers come into the matchup with a 24-5 record, ranking first in the Big 10 with a 13-5 conference record.
Purdue is coming off a 79-71 loss to No. 17 Indiana, capping off a four-game stretch where they’ve encountered three of their five losses: against the Hoosiers, the Maryland Terrapins, and the Northwestern Wildcats.
The Boilermakers are led by center Zach Edey, who has scored 22.3 points per game on 61.2% shooting, while securing 12.9 rebounds per game and blocking 2.4 shots per game.
Edey is complemented by freshmen guards Braden Smith and Fletcher Loyer, who score 9.8 and 11.7 points respectively, with the former shooting at a 45% clip from the field and 40% from three, while the latter has hit just 38% of his shots, including a 33.5% rate from three.
Purdue has been a strong offensive and defensive team, scoring 73.4 points per game, but allowing just 62.2 points on the other end.
Keys to the Game
The point guard: It’s currently unclear whether Chucky Hepburn will be available for the Badgers on Thursday after the guard sustained an injury in Wisconsin’s 87-79 loss to the Michigan Wolverines over the weekend.
Hepburn did not practice on Tuesday, and guard Kamari McGee would likely take his place, should the sophomore be unable to play.
Regardless of who plays, the point guard will be an important position for the Badgers on Thursday.
If it’s Hepburn, how will he react post-injury and can he keep up the same intensity, especially on the defensive end against Purdue’s pair of offensive guards?
If it’s McGee, how will he operate the offense and maintain his spark for more than just a few minutes?
Additionally, should McGee start, how much will Greg Gard rely on backups like Isaac Lindsey, who have seen rare playing time down the stretch?
All of these questions are integral to the Badgers’ formula on Thursday in a highly-contested matchup.
Three-pointers: Quite frankly, the one area where the Badgers have the advantage, aside from turnovers, is the three-ball, which could be even more important with a Zach Edey protecting the paint.
Wisconsin’s top three-point shooter, Connor Essegian, has seen a serious dip in efficiency beyond the arc over his last four games, shooting just 5/29 from three, although the freshman has found different ways to score.
Additionally, the Badgers could be without Hepburn, who is Wisconsin’s best deep shooter in regard to efficiency, leaving them in an undesirable situation.
However, guard Max Klesmit has been heating up recently, shooting 42% from three over the month of February, providing an added deep spark, while backup Jordan Davis shot 36.8% over that period of time.
With aggressiveness, the Badgers should likely find some three-point opportunities. They’ll need to hit some down if they want to compete with Purdue offensively.
Free Throws: The Badgers will most certainly need discipline if they want to have a close game against the Boilermakers.
Purdue shoots an astounding 20.2 free throws per game, drilling them at a 75.3% rate, while allowing just 10 opponent free throws per game.
The Badgers themselves shoot 13.8 free throws per game, but hit only 66.6% of their free throws, while allowing 14.7 to opponents on a game-by-game basis.
Wisconsin has a tendency to get into foul trouble, which isn’t a recipe for success against the aggressive Purdue, who shoots the second-most free throws in the Big 10.
Discipline is a “must” on Thursday, carrying from the guards to the bigs against a well-rounded Purdue team.
For those attending today’s game, be sure to get there early for Senior Night, where the Badgers will honor Tyler Wahl and likely Jahcobi Neath!