As expected, Wisconsin is off to a good start to begin Big Ten play after beating both Penn State and Northwestern by double digits. In fact, since Wisconsin lost to Duke at the beginning of December, the Badgers have won every all seven games by at least 11 points.
Like Wisconsin, Purdue (10-5, 2-0) have won its first two conference games against Minnesota and Michigan. This will be Purdue’s first Big Ten road game and the Boilers’ first true road contest since a 10-point loss to Vanderbilt December 13. Purdue has been able to shoot the ball efficiently this season, making 46.2 percent of its shots from the field and average 75.1 points a game, which ranks fifth in the Big Ten.
In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin as they strive for an eighth straight win and its third straight victory over Purdue.
Lay up: Containing the 3-point shot
With Wisconsin having plenty of interior size, it has helped prevent teams from consistently getting the basketball in the paint at times this season. Having the height advantage in games has allowed Wisconsin to consistently win the rebounding battle (13 of 15 games), but it also means that Wisconsin isn’t allowing second-chance opportunities and allowing themselves to stay fresh on the defensive end.
Purdue can rely on either A.J. Hammons or Isaac Haas – a pair of 7-fotters – who average six and 4.8 rebounds a game, respectively. Purdue also relies on Vince Edwards, who is second on the team in rebounds with 5.9 a game and is averaging 2.5 of the teams 12.6 offensive rebounds a game. Hammons is second to Edwards with 2.4 offensive rebounds a game.
Being able to limit any second chances is key with Purdue having three players who shoot better than 40 percent from 3-point range. Kendall Stephens leads the team at 43.3 percent from three, Jon Octeus is shooting 41.2 percent and Edwards rounds out the trio making 40 percent from beyond the arc. Stephens leads the trio in attempts with six three point attempts a game, and the Boilers on average make 5.9 three point attempts a game.
It will be interesting to see who defends Stephens, with the likely candidate being Josh Gasser. If that’s the case, there will be at a slight disadvantage from a height perspective with Stephens standing at 6-6. As long as Gasser stays on his defensive keys, preventing driving lanes and eliminating space, Wisconsin should be fine.
Mid-range jumper: Creating disruption
Wisconsin has been good this year at being able to cause disruption and forcing turnovers, which has led to average of 16.2 points off turnovers. It’s a trend that has a chance to continue with Purdue ranking 11th in turnovers in the Big Ten (13.3 per game). Despite ranking near the bottom in the Big Ten in turnovers, not one player for Purdue averages a high amount of turnovers a game. Hammons leads the team in miscues with 2.1, Haas is second with 1.9 and Stephens averages 1.7 assists to 1.4 turnovers.
As good as Wisconsin has been in creating turnovers (12.1 per game), the Badgers have only forced double-digit turnovers once in the last five games (21 vs. Nicholls). The other opponents in that four games have only turned the basketball over 8.2 times a game. With Big Ten play starting, it will become more difficult for the UW defense to create turnovers at a high rate like they did in non-conference play.
Turnovers have led to a lot of scoring opportunities for Wisconsin this season, especially in transition. If Wisconsin can get an outlet pass and force Purdue on its heels, the Boilermakers could be forced into fouling to avoid easy points. Purdue sends its opponent to the free throw line 20.4 times a game, and Wisconsin has been able to make 14.4 of its free throw attempts a game and are shooting 74.2 percent as a team.
3-pointer: The battle of frontcourts
Frank Kaminsky and Nigel Hayes will have to be ready for a low-post scrum when they face Haas and Hammons. Both can handle the physicality down low and have shown to be strong in defending the paint, especially Hammons, who leads the team with 2.7 blocks a game and is a main reason why Purdue leads the Big Ten in blocked shots with 5.7 a game.
With Hammons having the ability to alter shots around the hoop, Kaminsky will need to be ready to use one of his plethora of post moves at his disposal. As long as the spacing and the ball movement continue to be as good as they have been since Big Ten play has started, Wisconsin should find a way to get Kaminsky points down low.
Kaminsky and Hayes can also help themselves if they can effectively draw either Haas or Hammons out away from the hoop. If they can hit a couple perimeter shots and force either one of the big Boilers to defend on the perimeter, it will force them to do something neither is comfortable with. That could open up jump shots or driving lanes.
Purdue’s size puts an extra emphasis on Wisconsin needing to be effective boxing out and securing rebounds. If it is an offensive rebound, UW’s bigs could have the opportunity of finding an open space on the floor to knock down a shot or being able to reset the offense. Defensively Kaminsky and Hayes will need to be ready with both Hammons and Haas average 10.3 points a game, which is tied for the third on the team in scoring for Purdue.
At times against Northwestern, the Badgers allowed too many easy points around the hoop. The same results will occur for Purdue if Wisconsin doesn’t hold up stronger against the point of attack. Wisconsin is giving up 23.6 points in the paint this season and have given up an average of 29 points in the paint over the first two Big Ten games.