Purdue squares off with one of the toughest home teams in the BT tonight as they head to Wisconsin. There's a lot to talk about in preparation for this one.
First off, and most importantly, our pal Erin Andrews will be on the court talking to Matty and Chris Kramer (who I think she's a bit smitten with). While some believe (accurately or inaccurately), the co-eds aren't going to spellbind the Boilers because of their beauty, Ms. Andrews might as she will be feet, if not inches away from some of our favorite 19 year-old young men. Andrews has been a bit of a good luck charm for our Boilers in the past calendar year...let's hope that continues.
An interesting sub-plot for this game is the streaks that both teams were on last time they met and are currently on for tonight's meeting. A few weeks ago, Purdue looked nearly left-for-dead coming off of successive BT losses and was in the cellar at 0-2. At the same time Bucky was 3-0 and Bo Ryan had his young Badger squad sitting atop the league as he tends to do. Well, now things have changed. Purdue has won 4 straight and is scratching and clawing its way back toward the conference leader. At the same time, Wisconsin is on a skid of the same length as Purdue's winning streak.
Purdue put itself in a near-must-win position in Mackey versus Wisconsin last time...now, the Badgers are in one as well as they seem to be fighting for their post-season lives; an unusual position for Wisconsin teams coached by Ryan. In fact, Bo's teams haven't missed the NCAA tourney in his previous seven seasons...and must win out (during the Big Ten regular season) to reach 19 wins (the lowest win total in the Ryan Era at Wisky).
While Purdue's on a three-game winning streak versus the Badgers, I don't feel real comfortable about this game. Wisconsin still has a strangle-hold on its conference foes in the Kohl Center...Purdue's in elite company with only two other teams to have won there...and, despite their recent woes, the Badgers still are #22 in the RPI...But Sienna is no. 20, so nevermind that worthless poll. Purdue is 3-1 on the road this season, Wisconsin is 8-2 at home...a down year for them. But, one stat that might prove to be troublesome for our Boilers tonight is turnovers/game. Purdue is 6th in the conference, turning it over nearly 14 times/gm. It may not be easy to lower that percentage tonight in the hostile Madison venue. Purdue, and specifically LewJack need to take better care of the ball.
As Kramer's health continues to improve, it seems Hummel's might be slipping...but clearly, he's made a decision to play through the pain. His field goal percentage has been plummetting as the season has worn on and is 3% less than it was this time last year...and his steals/game have fallen about half a steal/game since December. All that said, even with a bum back, he still demands respect from opponents while on offense and he continues to be perpetually around the ball, both on defense and on the glass. Coming off of five days rest, I look for Hummel to look more like himself offensively...not only looking for his shot, but making it.
So what's the key to the game? To me, it's Grant...if he continues what we've been seeing the past few contests, Purdue will continue to be a very tough team to beat.
Purdue seems to be a tough match up for Wisconsin as they seem quicker than the Badgers at nearly every position and at the same time, with the exception of LewJack, are taller and longer than the Badgers in almost every spot. The fact that this Badger team has no true center that is a significant contributor has hurt them this season...Hopefully it continues to do so, at least for one more game.
Tip off is at 9:00 on ESPN