Preview: Purdue vs Wisconsin - In Search of A Win

Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday's showdown at Mackey will be a big day for both Purdue and Wisconsin. Following an inexplicable loss at Northwestern, Purdue needs a win here to get back on track for a potential NCAA bid. As for Wisconsin, they're currently trying to overcome a grueling three game losing streak.

By the Numbers:

Purdue Team Wisconsin
13-6 (3-3) Record 16-3 (3-3)
NR Ranking #9
104 RPI 3
83 BPI 11
98 KenPom 15
80 Sagarin 12

January 25, 2014

5:00 PM EST - BTN

Skinny:

The Boilermakers have been relatively inconsistent throughout most of the season so far. Sometimes the team looks considerably improved from last year, evident in road wins versus Illinois and West Virginia, as well as picking up several close wins through the season so far. On the flipside, the team still likes to no-show from time to time like last year, evident in their games against Washington State and Northwestern. On the other side of things we have Wisconsin, a team that was trending upward and at the top of the world after a strong 16-0 start to kick off the season. The Badgers have now lost three in a row and will travel to Mackey Arena to face a Purdue squad Bo Ryan is only 8-10 against. Purdue is the only Big Ten school that Bo Ryan has a losing record against and he is only 2-7 against the Boilers in West Lafayette.

With both teams currently in need of a victory, home field advantage could play a critical role here. Regardless, this is another opportunity for the Boilermakers to add a marquee victory to their tournament resume, while Wisconsin will try to use this as a nice road win to get back on track. Either way, you can expect two determined teams to battle for a much needed win in what should be an entertaining game to keep you occupied until the Michigan / Michigan State game at 7.

Projected Starting Lineup:

Purdue Pos. Wisconsin
Ronnie Johnson G Traevon Jackson
Terone Johnson G Ben Brust
Rapheal Davis G Josh Gasser
Basil Smotherman F Sam Dekker
A.J. Hammons C/F Frank Kaminsky

Players to Watch:

A.J. Hammons: Hammons is a key player to watch because he'll need to improve on his performance from earlier in the week if Purdue expects to win. Hammons has been solid on defense and has recently avoided foul trouble, but his offensive game needs to be more consistent. Far too often Hammons struggles with traveling and keeping his hands on the ball and his turnovers down low are detrimental as they consistently kill easy scoring opportunities for the center. If Hammons can simply cut down on unforced turnovers then Purdue could easily add several buckets each game, which would be critical as almost all of their losses (outside of the Wazzou game) have been close, winnable games.

Terone Johnson: Like him or not but Terone's offensive performance usually determines how the offense is going to play on any given day. While Johnson's poor efficiency and high volume shooting has became a bit of a pet peeve of mine, I will admit that Johnson tends to be pretty clutch late in games when the team needs a big shot. To be honest, the first thing I noticed (and was irritated by) at the end of the Northwestern game was that Terone was inbounding as I expected the senior to be the guy to take the last shot. He's the leader of the team and has endured his fair share of criticism, but his performance (especially late in games) is likely key to Purdue if they want to win.

Frank Kaminsky: Kaminsky has proven to be a viable threat in the frontcourt for the Badgers, but I think his biggest potential benefit today will be if he can draw some cheap fouls early from A.J. Hammons. Purdue's frontcourt is sporadic when it comes to offensive production but few will disagree with the fact that Hammons can change games down low on defense. Of course he struggles with screens if you force him out towards the perimeter, but I'd imagine keeping him anchored down low is a point of emphasis for Painter. If Kaminsky can get Hammons in foul trouble, not only will it make it easier for Wisconsin's big to score inside, but it will allow their wings to cut to the basket for plenty of opportunities down low as there's a considerably drop off defensively from Hammons to Jay Simpson and Travis Carroll.

Any Badger Shooting Three Pointers: Earlier in the week Wisconsin was only 5 of 20 from beyond the arc against Minnesota. Versus Michigan they shot only 38.9% from deep and they also shot a mere 30.4% against Indiana. Wisconsin will shot plenty of three pointers (they've shot 61 the last three games) and they're facing a team that struggles defensively on the perimeter and doesn't score many points. So basically if Wisconsin can hit from outside with any consistency this game could become a cakewalk. If they go 5 of 20 again today? Well look for today's task of ending their losing streak to be considerably more difficult.

Staff Comments:

Purdue Perspective: Typical Purdue followed up a nice road win at Illinois by losing to bottom feeding Northwestern in a game that they didn't trail in until the second (and final) overtime. Typical Purdue missed crucial free throws down the stretch and had an extremely cold shooting stretch to close out the second half. And in typical fashion, the refs decided to swallow their whistles on a last second foul that should have sent A.J. Hammons to the line for the game winning free throw (but apparently refs "don't want to decide the game" so they refuse to call the game as they were and inevitably decide the game by giving the defense an unnecessary advantage). Yes I'm bitter over it and I've felt that way since the ending of the game. Now Purdue is at home and needs a win to get back on track. Yes the loss to Northwestern stings and makes the window for a NCAA bid even smaller for the Boilermakers, but a win versus Wisconsin would be a colossal boost for the resume and put Purdue back on track. Considering Wisconsin is struggling right now and Purdue is very good against Bo Ryan (especially at home), this game is one that the Boilers could very well take. But then again, probably not (we can't have nice things). Of course it should be noted that Purdue tends to play their best ball when no one expects much from them, so maybe if I'm entirely dismissive towards their chances then they'll pick up the critical victory tonight.

Wisconsin Perspective by Kevin Dlugos (@_dlugos): Well, this isn't good. Wisconsin has lost 3 straight and looked pretty pitiful in their most recent loss to Minnesota. Even without Andre Hollins on the floor, the Badgers surrendered 81 points. Wisconsin's interior defense has been downright putrid during their losing streak. They can't guard a pick-and-roll to save their lives, and refuse to contest opposing guards as they drive the rim. Offensively, they seem to have regressed from earlier in the year. While their ball movement is still solid, they are no longer knocking down shots with regularity. Sam Dekker has been a big part of these recent offensive struggles, as he's shooting only 25% from behind the arc during the losing streak. Last season, Purdue ruined Wisconsin's senior day, and from what I remember, Wisconsin's defense that game has mirrored their recent defense. Terone and Ronnie Johnson could very well take the soft Badger perimeter defense for a ride, just like last year. But I have trouble thinking Wisconsin will lose 4 in a row. Buckeye fans probably said the exact same thing before the Nebraska debacle, but I see Wisconsin turning it around this game. Even if they win, this won't make all their problems go away. I'd still like to think Bo Ryan won't let this season fall completely apart. It'll be closer than it should be, but the Badgers should sneak out of Mackey with a win.

Prediction:

The Boilermakers have enough talent to create issues for opponents but seem so hit or miss in capitalizing that it's hard to even justify talking much about it. Hammons can take control of games down low but at the same time, will simply disappear in some games. It's not all on Hammons, either, as the team tends to ignore all of the frontcourt every other game and Purdue refuses to take advantage of their size down low. Of course it'd be easier to feed Hammons down low if he didn't constantly shuffle his feet, as the seven foot center got nailed for traveling several times out in Evanston.

Besides the teams front court, Purdue has a few solid three point shooters with Kendall Stephens and Sterling Carter, but both tend to force too many threes and this has led to issues with shot selection and wasted possessions. The Johnson brothers tend to determine how strong (or poorly) the offense plays, as Purdue's best games tend to occur when both of them are playing well. Look for Purdue to try to get both of them highly involved in the offense and to try to get Hammons rolling once again. Hammons will likely draw Kaminsky in a matchup with no noticeable size advantage, so if Hammons wants to have a strong day he'll have to earn it down low. When all is said and done any chance of an upset here will likely come down to Purdue's ability to convert on free throws, hit some threes and cut down on turnovers and poor decisions shooting the ball.

As for Wisconsin, their defense has struggled but they're not exactly getting an offensive juggernaut today. If Wisconsin can get Dekker, Gasser and the rest of the starting rotation to hit with any consistency from outside then it'll be a long day for the Boilermakers. The way Purdue's offense has been playing means Purdue will likely not be able to keep pace with a strong three point shooting team. Luckily for Wisconsin the Boilermakers also have struggled a bit with screens and closing out on the perimeter, often allowing plenty of open looks from outside. If Wisconsin can shoot a decent percentage from three then they should be able to take care of business. While Hammons has been hit or miss offensively, his defensive output should be able to contain Kaminsky as long as he can avoid foul trouble. Look for Wisconsin to attack down low and attempt to draw some cheap fouls early on. If Hammons can't keep his hands to himself then the Boilermakers could be in for a world of hurt inside.

Either way, I expect Purdue to come out ready to compete and Wisconsin to continue to look sluggish. Purdue's inconsistencies will likely rear their ugly head sometime in the second half, allowing the Badgers to open up a lead just big enough to get by here. It'll likely be a slow and ugly slugfest, but look for Wisconsin to end their losing streak tonight.

Purdue 59 Wisconsin 68

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