A huge showdown between the Big Ten’s top teams sees Purdue heading to Wisconsin; can the Badgers prevail at home or do the Boilermakers take over the conference lead?
TV schedule: Sunday, February 4, 1:00 pm ET. CBS
Arena: Kohl Center in Madison, Wisconsin
The conversations about Purdue (20-2) are that this team can do major damage this season. Returning the national player of the year in Zach Edey was already an offseason victory, but Edey’s play has been just as brilliant this year. The rest of this Purdue squad is playing successful basketball, with just a pair of losses this season. Both of those came on the road in Big Ten play but can they avoid a third?
Clearly the headlines start with Zach Edey (23.4 ppg, 11.6 rpg) who is having a monstrous impact on every game he plays, like his 30-point effort against Northwestern just a few days ago. Another major player to watch is sophomore Braden Smith (12.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 7.5 apg) who continues to develop into one of the best young point guards in the entire nation. Fellow sophomore guard Fletcher Loyer (11.2 ppg, 2.0 rpg) continues to play at a high level while Lance Jones (12.7 ppg, 2.8 rpg) transferred in from Southern Illinois and has become the backcourt’s best scorer.
Purdue sits at #2 in the AP Top 25 and are also 2nd in the KenPom ratings. Virtually every metric shows that these Boilermakers are one of the elite teams in the nation, as they sit #1 in the offensive efficiency. While the defense wasn’t strong in that recent outing against Northwestern, the offense has hummed along nicely through conference play, with Purdue sitting at 9-2 and looking to move atop those standings.
On the other side, Wisconsin (16-5) has had their share of ups and downs this season, but sit in pretty impressive shape in early February. They’ve dropped a few games to top competition and held the Big Ten lead for all of January, but tough road losses at Penn State and this week against Nebraska have put the Badgers in a more precarious situation in the standings.
Among the stars on this deep, talented roster, AJ Storr (16.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg) stands out as the top scorer and a talented shooter. In the frontcourt, Steven Crowl (11.4 ppg, 7.8 rpg) has developed into an interior menace as a junior while Tyler Wahl (11.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg) continues to put up nice numbers in his fifth season with the Badgers. Former Wofford guard Max Klesmit (10.0 ppg) has carved out a nice role for himself as well.
Wisconsin opened this week at #6 in the AP Top 25, though will likely drop following that loss to the Cornhuskers where they blew a big lead. They’re at 11th in the KenPom ratings, boasting one of the most efficient offenses in the nation. Though their defense has let them down a few times in Big Ten play, Wisconsin plays smart, cohesive team basketball and has been one of the best shooting teams in this league.
Could it be possible that the Badgers were looking ahead to this matchup when they dropped that thriller at Nebraska? Regardless of that result, Wisconsin will have to be at their best, especially in defending an elite big man like Edey. It’s hard to see the personnel here to limit Edey, but Wisconsin will attack the Boilermakers in other ways.
Both teams have seen success on the offense, meaning the defenses will play a major role in determining the winner. This showdown occurs on Wisconsin’s home floor, but the Boilermakers’ recent road success means they won’t back down to the challenge in Madison. Was that loss just a misstep for the Badgers? Can we expect them to bounce back? Expect a close game, but it’s hard to bet against the team with the nation’s best player.
Prediction: Purdue 78, Wisconsin 74