Undefeated at home (8-0), Wisconsin has established a consistency on its own turf, but when it comes to playing on the road, it is an entirely different story.
The Badgers hope to rewrite the story beginning with a two-game stretch in the state of Indiana tonight as they head to Purdue in search of not only a win in their conference opener, but also their first win in West Lafayette in 33 years.
As difficult as the road has been thus far for head coach Bo Ryan's team, his players relish the fact they will be tested out of their comfort zone right out of the gates.
"We are kind of excited about it," senior guard Clayton Hanson said. "It seems like we haven't been on the road in a while so I think we'll looking forward to playing well on the road and improving on how we played versus Pepperdine and Marquette."
Both of UW's losses in the non-conference season came away from the Kohl Center (Pepperdine and Marquette). Opening the Big Ten season on the road, particularly at a venue as difficult to play in as Mackey Arena, provides a measuring stick for how well the team is developing this season.
"This is going to show right here what kind of team we have and where guys are at right now," sophomore Alando Tucker said. "It's early, the first couple games in the Big Tens but we can make a statement coming out of this week with two road wins.
"Going to Pepperdine and then playing at Marquette, those environments were tough and they prepared us. That prepared us well to know what to expect on the road. A lot of the newer guys and the ones with maybe a little less experience understand now it's going to be tough but it's a matter of taking it one at time. That starts with Purdue."
Despite struggling to a 4-6 record so far this season, the Boilermakers will be a tough, physical team for the Badgers to deal with. In the past, Purdue has set the tone during its home games with tenacious play from the opening tip. For UW, letting opponents get on a run out of the gates has been its downfall in its two losses this season.
Wisconsin, therefore, wants to keep Purdue from getting off to a fast start, perhaps subduing the crowd fervor.
"It's one of those places where it's tough to play in no matter how well the team is playing, so it'll be a battle," senior Zach Morley said. "Their crowd will be in it and we know they will be physical from the get-go and throughout so we have to match it."
The Badgers feel they must play their game offensively and defensively, and play with the same intensity they play with at home.
"On the road, we've come out a little too tentative," Morley said. "We need to play with a little more aggressiveness from the start and not wait for them to do something and be the ones to make the first move."
Wisconsin's defense has been strong this season, particularly in recent games, but now the Badgers have to face a team that knows its systems better than any team it has faced in non-conference play.
Purdue, meanwhile, has started to come together offensively. In the Boilermakers last three wins they have had less than 10 turnovers in each outing. The Boilermakers have also dished out more assists than turnovers in their last four games.
"Their motion offense is tough," Hanson said. "They're always moving and have good shooters coming off screens so you just have to chase. It's tough defensively but you have stick to the rules and keep working."
The Badgers will have to work hard to slow down junior Carl Landry. Landry, a native of Milwaukee and former teammate of UW junior Boo Wade at Milwaukee Vincent, leads the team in scoring (17.7 points per game) and rebounding (7.7 rebounds per game) this season and could be a handful for the Badgers down low. (Landry's brother, Marcus Landry, is a senior at Vincent and a Wisconsin class of 2005 recruit).
However as well as Landry is playing, the Boilermakers have struggled this season offensively, only averaging 63.8 points per game. Even with four players averaging in double figures, Purdue's strength is its defense — one that is averaging 7.6 steals per contest.
History and UW's play this season on the road seemingly add up to another win for the Boilermakers on paper. However, the Badgers are confident that this time their trip to West Lafayette will result in a win.
"There are a lot of people that think that if they get us away from [the Kohl Center] that they have a better chance, so we have to prove to ourselves that we can play just as well on the road as we do at home," Morley said.
"We have to do the things we do at home—get to the line, rebound, play smart—and do the same on the road," Tucker said.
What: Wisconsin (9-2) at Purdue (4-6)
When: Wednesday, January 5, 2005 at 8 p.m.
Where: Mackey Arena (14,123), West Lafayette, Ind.
Broadcasts: The game will be televised live by ESPN Plus (WISC-TV in Madison). It can be also heard live on the Wisconsin Radio Network (WIBA 1310 AM/101.5 FM)
Series Notes: This will be the 157th meeting between the two teams ... Purdue leads the series 97-59, including a 63-15 in West Lafayette. Wisconsin has lost 29 consecutive games in Mackey Arena, with its last win coming on Feb. 15, 1972