So the Badgers play their first legitimately tough Big Ten road game tomorrow afternoon, facing Purdon't in beautiful, sunny West Lafayette. Mike Lucas has a nice little article about the game.
Really, this is going to be a toughie. Purdue is a young but talented team, Painter is a good coach, the Boilermakers are on on a bit of a roll (having won 7 out of 8 games), and Mackey Arena is a difficult place to play. In fact, the Badgers' record there has been nothing short of terrible, historically. That said, Purdue does have some odd losses, though those came during the pre-Big Ten Season (to Iowa State and Wofford (?) both at home (??)). For those looking for more reasons for optimism, Purdue is rated 39th by basketball statistics guru Ken Pomeroy, while the Badgers, thanks in largest part to their usually excellent defense, are rated 5th. (Those stats are subject to constant revision, by the by.)
The stats reveal that Purdue, like Wisconsin, is significantly better on D than on O. Also, Purdue is great at negating one of Wisco's usual strengths-- crashing the offensive boards. Purdue excels at cleaning the defensive glass. And I'm not sure what type of D they play, but Purdue has been fantastic at forcing turnovers this season- Pomeroy's ratings have them as 17th best in the country, and remember, there are hundreds of D-I basketball teams out there. They also are prolific at shot-blocking and, like UW, do a good job of not fouling.
This looks like a tough match-up, especially given the home court advantage. I think the key to the game will be Wisconsin's turnovers. That's because even after grabbing a great number of steals and forcing lots of turnovers, Purdue's offense is still mediocre. That means without a steady infusion of fast-break opportunities (which steals normally provide) Purdue's offense is likely downright sluggish. So if the Badgers can take care of the ball, especially when Flowers or Hughes is being pestered by Purdue guard Chris Kramer, who is a great defensive player and their leader in steals, that could really help matters. In fact, Purdue's defense on two and three point shots is only pretty good. That means if opposing teams can hold onto the ball, they often get off a pretty good shot. That's what the Badgers will need to do. And, of course, they'll need to continue doing all those good things that got them where they are-- playing excellent team defense, hunting for good looks on offense, rebounding (something that's been lacking in at least two Big Ten games), and avoiding unnecessary fouls.