No. 2 Purdue at No. 6 Wisconsin: Winner in Sunday showdown will hold B1G edge
If Purdue or Wisconsin has any fatigue from their overtime games earlier this week, that’ll likely be extinguished early on Sunday afternoon.
Adrenaline has a tendency to do that. And there should be plenty in Madison on Sunday, as No. 2 Purdue travels to take on No. 6 Wisconsin for a chance to stake a claim as the Big Ten frontrunner with only a month to go in the regular season. It should be an incredible affair in the Kohl Center. The Boilermakers are coming off a thrilling overtime victory Wednesday over Northwestern, albeit one that might have been emotionally exhausting. The Badgers, with 1 day less rest, are stinging after seeing their 18-point 2nd-half lead erased in an OT loss at Nebraska.
Right now, Purdue (9-2 in the Big Ten) holds a half-game lead in the conference standings — the teams are tied in the loss column — with Wisconsin (8-2) still to make a return trip to West Lafayette on the final regular-season date, March 10. Let’s take a look at 3 keys for both the Boilermakers and Badgers before Sunday’s showdown:
Purdue wins if …
It keeps AJ Storr in check. The Wisconsin leading scorer could be a matchup problem for the Boilermakers, because Storr can score in a bunch of different ways. In Big Ten games, the 6-7 sophomore, a transfer from St. John’s, is averaging 18.8 points per game by scoring at all 3 levels: In the paint, in the mid-range and from long-distance (where he’s hit 20-of-52 in league games).
Because of Storr’s length, it might not be the easiest matchup for the Boilermakers. Perhaps that means Matt Painter employs Ethan Morton more frequently, as he did vs. Northwestern, to try to slow down Storr. Morton, who at 6-7 could match up, doesn’t do much on the offensive end, and had one of the more bizarre stat lines vs. the Wildcats, with no points, no shot attempts, no rebounds and no assists (but 2 steals) in 20 minutes.
It limits turnovers. Purdue is the most offensively efficient team in the country, according to KenPom, with the only occasional bugaboo being the potential to commit turnovers. It has not hurt the Boilermakers frequently, but it did in an overtime loss at Northwestern on Dec. 1, when Purdue committed 17 of them that the Wildcats turned into 20 points. But Wisconsin hasn’t turned teams over; Badgers opponents are turning the ball over only 9.8 times per game in Big Ten play, and slightly more than that overall.
If Purdue has possessions that end in field goal attempts — or free throws (although it’ll need to be better than the 63% vs. Northwestern) — then it’s generally in good shape.
Sees Jones’ stellar play continue. Lance Jones has been a stud during the Big Ten season, becoming one of the more surprising storylines in the conference the last month. The Southern Illinois transfer, who was recruited with thoughts that he could be a solid role player at Purdue, has instead become a centerpiece. He exploded for a season-high 26 points vs. Northwestern, including a couple of 3-pointers late in regulation that helped the Boilermakers get the game to overtime. In Big Ten play, Jones is averaging 15.2 points per game while hitting nearly 38% of his 3-pointers.
If Zach Edey does his typical thing inside and Braden Smith continues to excel at the point, then Jones’ production can make defending the Boilermakers exceedingly difficult.
Wisconsin wins if …
It doesn’t have a hangover. It’s reasonable for the Badgers to need a day to recover following Thursday night’s disappointment in Lincoln, but it can’t let that linger. Purdue has had a tendency to bust teams early, with halftime margins of 8, 13, 24, 13, 22 and 20 during its 6-game winning streak (for an average of 16.7 points per game).
If the Badgers let their poor 2nd-half and overtime performance in Lincoln come home to Madison, then it could turn into a long afternoon.
Klesmit goes berserk. It’s certainly possible that Max Klesmit will go bonkers, carrying the Badgers with his hot shooting. The veteran guard is hitting nearly 48% of his 3-pointers during Big Ten play, while averaging 2.2 makes per contest. If he gets going and carries Storr along with him — Storr is making 39% in conference games — then Wisconsin might be able to do what Nebraska did when the Cornhuskers beat the Boilermakers earlier this season. Then, Nebraska nuked Purdue for 14 triples.
Klesmit is averaging 12.8 points in the Big Ten, but more than simply the numbers, he seems to have a flare for hitting the big shot in the big moment (and Chucky Hepburn has done that vs. Purdue previously), so the Boilermakers need to be able to keep him in check.
It can stay out of foul trouble. The Badgers need to try to keep Steven Crowl on the floor. The 7-foot, 250-pound junior is big and strong enough to at least hassle Edey, plus he has the face up game, with 14 3-pointers this season, to be able to make the Purdue giant work on defense.
But Crowl has to stay on the floor. The Purdue-Northwestern game Wednesday changed dramatically in favor of the Boilermakers when the Wildcats’ 2 primary bigs fouled out, leaving Edey to dominate the paint in overtime. Wisconsin freshman Nolan Winter is Crowl’s backup and while he’s been productive in limited minutes — 3 points and 2 rebounds in 9.6 minutes per game — it’s not ideal to have the underclassman putting in long stretches vs. Edey.