The Badgers earned a road split over the last week, winning at Indiana but losing at Purdue. Where does that leave them among the Big Ten title contenders? Well, the standings are insane at the moment. No Big Ten team is undefeated in the conference, and we’re only three or four games into the conference schedule. Purdue, Minnesota, Michigan State, Nebraska, Maryland and Wisconsin all have just one conference loss.
What does Wisconsin’s road forward look like? Specifically, does the recent loss to Purdue tell us anything about the future of the Big Ten title race?
Let’s not panic.
Sure, Wisconsin trailed by as many as 16 points in West Lafayette, and lost by 11. Yes, the Boilermakers took the lead for good with almost 13 minutes left in the first half. The Badgers, muddling through a tough offensive performance, closed to within four in the second half, but couldn’t overcome. Purdue dominated the glass (34-22) and when Wisconsin really struggles, it’s usually shooting related. The Badgers shot 14 percent from three, 39 percent overall.
Usually, the overall struggles on offense dovetail with the individual struggles of Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes. Against Purdue, Koenig and Hayes combined for 19 points and shot 7-for-20.
Ultimately, though, don’t panic. If we add perspective, Wisconsin has only won four times at Purdue (4-39 all-time). One of those four came in the 2013-14 season.
Furthermore, according to the Associated Press, Wisconsin had the chance to do something no Big Ten team had done since 1956 (Illinois), which was to beat Indiana and Purdue in back-to-back road games.
Unfortunately, losing to Purdue is tough to swallow in that the Badgers won’t get a chance to even the score in Madison this season. But, the task was daunting, and earning an Indiana-Purdue split ought to be considered a positive.
The Upcoming Schedule.
The Badgers’ schedule softens a bit after the tough early going. Most imminently, Ohio State and Michigan will travel to Madison, with a combined Big Ten record of 1-5. Then, Wisconsin only has one currently-ranked team on its remaining schedule (#24 Minnesota).
All three of Wisconsin’s losses have been away from the Kohl Center this year, but four of the next five games are in Madison.
Over the nine game winning streak, Wisconsin established consistent offense, and it left them a bit against Purdue.
Ethan Happ scored 36 points (shooting 15-for-27 from the floor) over the two games in the state of Indiana. And, Koenig played spectacularly against Indiana, hitting five threes and scoring 17 points overall.
Hayes, though, struggled on the road. After seemingly figuring out a rhythm during the winning streak, he scored only 20 points over two games, on 8-for-23 from the floor. Against Indiana, he had a tough match up with OG Anunoby who’s a big, athletic defender, but Hayes ought to have enough experience, athleticism and skill to score on any match up.
If there is a concern, the offense is it. Wisconsin will always be solid defensively. They’ll rebound and won’t turn the ball over. But, can the Badgers consistently generate good offense? Can Greg Gard get consistent performances from its stars, particularly when most necessary?
There are more big games in Wisconsin’s future, so we’ll get answers to those questions.
It’s important not to panic after one loss, particularly when it comes after a nine-game winning streak. I still think either Wisconsin or Purdue will win the Big Ten regular season title.
But, the race is close, and definitely far from over. Minnesota, Michigan State, Maryland and maybe even Nebraska could claim a legitimate stake, and of the two loss teams, Northwestern and Indiana could be frisky.
Wisconsin’s schedule is fairly soft the rest of the way (unless a great team emerges), so despite the Purdue loss, the Badgers will be right in the mix.