No.13 Wisconsin has shown they can win in Assembly Hall, beating Indiana on its home floor six out of the last eight times. It’s a different story when the Badgers play Purdue inside Mackey Arena. Although Wisconsin has won twice in its last three road meetings in West Lafayette, Ind., the Badgers were swept by Purdue last year and are just 5-38 all-time at Mackey Arena.
The Boilermakers average 83.9 points per game, but facing a high-powered offense isn’t new for the Badgers. After holding Indiana, the conference leader in points per game, to 68 points, that kind of effort will be needed again by Wisconsin’s conference-leading scoring defense (59.4 points per game). The Boilermakers rank in the top two in both field goal percentage (48.6 percent) and 3-point percentage (40.3 percent) in the Big Ten.
In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin (13-2, 2-0 Big Ten) as they prepare to play Purdue (13-3, 2-1).
LAY UP: REPEAT PERFORMANCE BY KOENIG
Bronson Koenig had one of his best shooting games of the season in the win at Indiana Tuesday by going 5-for-7 (71.4 percent) from the field and a perfect 5-for-5 from three. That kind of efficiency by Koenig not only helps Wisconsin score points but helps open up other opportunities on offense.
Despite leading the team in scoring (14.3 points per game), Koenig had scored in single figures in three straight games, shooting a lowly 23.1 percent (6-for-26) from the field and just 21.4 percent (3-for-14) on 3-pointers. It’s important for Koenig to string together successful outings and hit some shots against a Purdue team that allows opponents to shoot 40.3 percent from the field. Koenig has done well generating opportunities for himself or his teammates, as 19 of his 29 assists have come over Wisconsin’s nine game win streak.
Most importantly, Koenig has committed only nine turnovers during the streak (including four games with zero turnovers) and played a role in forcing teams into miscues. Wisconsin has shown to be aggressive on defense and have found ways of coming up with steals, as the Badgers average 7.1 steals a game. Koenig is fourth on the team in steals (14) but eight of them have come over the last five games. That kind of defense should help disrupt the flow of a Purdue offense that averages 13.5 turnovers a game.
If Koenig can avoid foul trouble, Wisconsin will have another shooter on the floor to help keep pace with Purdue.
MID-RANGE JUMPER: CAN WISCONSIN DEFEND THE THREE POINT LINE?
Purdue has shown it is a dangerous 3-point shooting team, averaging 9.6 makes per game, having made at least 10 threes six times and shooting 40.3 percent from the perimeter, which leads the Big Ten. It’s not just one player either, as the Boilermakers have five players who shoot above 40 percent from three.
Purdue will mark Wisconsin’s fourth team it has faced this season that ranks in the top 25 in the N.C.A.A. in 3-point field goal percentage. The other three teams being Creighton, Georgetown and Marquette (all Big East teams), which shot 50 percent, 33.3 percent, and 45.5 percent from three, respectively, in their games against Wisconsin. Overall Wisconsin is allowing teams to shoot an average of 34.7 percent from three.
Wisconsin will need to be aware of Dakota Mathias, who attempts 59.6 percent of his shots from the perimeter and is second to Carsen Edwards (23-74 31.1 percent) in 3-point attempts with 71. But Mathias has shown to be a bigger threat of knocking down a three with a 49.3 shooting percentage.
Even if Wisconsin prevents Mathias from allowing him to catch and shoot, the Badgers will still need to be aware of Ryan Cline (45.1 percent), Vincent Edwards (44.1 percent), P.J. Thompson (41.2 percent) and Caleb Swanigan (40 percent).
It will be a team effort by Wisconsin to limit Purdue’s opportunities from three, which has dipped to 36.2 percent on an average of 26.6 attempts in conference play. Wisconsin will need to rotate consistently to prevent open looks or offensive rebounds, as the Boilermakers average 11.3 offensive rebounds a game.
Khalil Iverson could potentially play a key role in helping limit Purdue’s chances at getting off a clean look considering he leads the team in blocks with 14. Over the last five games Iverson has accumulated six blocks and his smart defense has helped contest shots and create steals for his teammates.
3-POINTER: HAPP VS. SWANIGAN
Ethan Happ and Swanigan have been two of the most consistent players in the Big Ten to this point, making it no surprise that their match-up will be one to watch considering opposing teams have tried to slow the two down with little luck.
Happ has been steady all year on defense but certainly will be tested by Swanigan and his 54.6 shooting percent, 18.3 points per game and a Big Ten-best 12.9 rebounds per game. The sophomore has registered 13 double-doubles this year (seven consecutive games) and has four games this season of at least 20 rebounds, including three in the last five games.
Wisconsin has been a strong rebounding team but Swanigan will certainly challenge UW’s frontcourt, making it important multiple players find a way to box him out to try and prevent him from getting his hands on the ball. Swanigan has shown to be able to consistently generate second chances, averaging 3.1 offensive rebounds a game.
On the flip side Wisconsin only allows 7.6 offensive rebounds a contest, which teams convert into just 7.6 points. Happ has played a big role in that thanks to him using his length to box teams out, as 6.5 of his 9.4 rebounds come on the defensive glass. Happ’s success on the glass has to continue to prevent Swanigan or Purdue from dominating the paint, a trait that has led them to shoot 48.6 percent as a team.
Turnovers is an area where Happ can exploit Swanigan, who leads the team with 3.1 turnovers a game. With Happ registering 24 steals this year, he should be able to find ways of coming up with one against Swanigan by either ripping the ball from him or poking it loose from behind. Those opportunities make it important UW comes up with the 50-50 balls.
On the same account, because of the demands of guarding Swanigan, Happ cannot afford to get into foul trouble for a second straight game. With UW not having another option capable of guarding him for long stretches, Happ has to play smart aggressive defense to give himself a chance to contain Swanigan and force him into shot attempts he’s not comfortable taking.