The Wisconsin Badgers gutted out a tough 62-55 win over the Purdue Boilermakers on Wednesday night in frigid Madison, WI. I always find it funny when an article about an indoor sporting event mentions the outdoor temperature. Like, who cares, right? Hot weather takes aside, the action inside the Kohl Center kept the spectators warm (tying it all together, baby!) as two Big Ten outfits traded punches.
All-America center Frank Kaminsky is rarely "the short one" in his matchups, but facing off against 7-2 freshman Isaac Haas left Kaminsky looking up at the guy guarding him for the first time all season. Between Haas, co-starter at center (and also a seven footer) A.J. Hammons, and missing practice this week with the flu, Kaminsky had his plate full all night. He still managed to lead all scorers with 21 points (11-of-14 from the free throw line) and grab four rebounds. What else did we learn last night?
1) Jon Octeus is a gift from the heavens
Octeus is not a guy many in B1G circles had heard of before, well, before conference play probably. Octeus transferred to Purdue this season from Colorado State, but only after being denied admission to the graduate program at UCLA he wanted to attend. He decided to visit Purdue in October and joined the team shortly thereafter. His decision to become a Boiler was so late in the game, that he had to have a special insert in their media guide at B1G Media Day.
Octeus has scored in double figures for five straight games and he led Purdue in scoring last night with 15 points on seven-of-nine shooting from the field. He also chipped in eight rebounds from the point guard position, which, no big deal also led the team. Octeus has been a steadying, veteran influence on a young Purdue team with his defense and ball security (his three turnovers last night were the most he'd had in a game all season). He ranks 132nd in the country in offensive rating and 146th in true shooting percentage, according to KenPom. I know Purdue is happy to have him, and looking at UCLA's early season struggles I'd bet Octeus is happy to be in West Lafayette.
2) Hammons and Haas will be a handful for the rest of the B1G
As mentioned above, it's rare that Frank Kaminsky will matchup with someone his size during the season. Against Purdue, he matched up with someone his size and someone bigger than he is. The youngster Haas showed off some impressive post moves in the first half against Kaminsky, going up, over, and around the veteran on his way to 11 points on five-of-seven shooting. As he matures, he will be a monster that Big Ten defense are going to have to learn to stop. Maybe they can use Ironman's Hulkbuster armor?
While Haas has been starting recently, junior A.J. Hammons usually ends up playing more minutes. Hammons dropped an identical 11 points (albeit on three more shots) and added four boards. A lightning rod for "takes," Hammons appears to be settling into a role as the "above average big man that isn't super efficient and probably won't live up to his hype but is still a better option than most other teams have." A long title, I know, but Hammons is playing better this year and if he and Haas form a dynamic duo, the rest of the conference could be in trouble come March.
Related side note: these two need a nickname. Suggestions encouraged in the comments.
3) Josh Gasser is efficient
I'd imagine that no player on Wisconsin frustrates opposing team's fans more than Gasser. Hell, I watch him play sometimes and the way he acts like he's never committed a foul in his life bothers me. But, whatever your thoughts are on his theatrics, you have to respect his efficiency. His eFG% is 64.6 (30th in the nation) and his true shooting percentage is 69.8 (7th best in the country). Here is the biggie, though. His offensive rating this season is 140.1, which is third best in the whole dang country. Now, I'm going to stop you right there, because I know what you're going to say. His usage is low, shockingly low for a starter actually. But on a team as talented as Wisconsin, Gasser does not need to be the focal point of the offense. The nice thing is though, that if Wisconsin needs him because Sam Dekker or Nigel Hayes is having an off night (see: last night against Purdue), Gasser is there to pick up the slack. Last night was Gasser's second highest percentage of possessions used of the season and he responded with 15 points (four-of-seven from the field), four rebounds, and zero turnovers.