After winning their first 14 games of the season and generating some measure of discussion about the possibility of running the table, the Badgers have gone sideways to an extent, dropping their last three games.
Purdue, meanwhile, feels like it gave away a win at Northwestern - no one will argue - to leave it 3-3 in the Big Ten through a half dozen games. Matt Painter said Friday he's skeptical that .500 in the Big Ten will even be enough to get Purdue into the NCAA Tournament, so obviously home games like Saturday's are increasingly important.
Projected starters (last game): C - A.J. Hammons; F - Basil Smotherman; F- Rapheal Davis; G - Ronnie Johnson; G - Terone Johnson
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Wisconsin's been one of the most successful programs in college basketball in recent years, but one Purdue's had a knack for playing well against.
Last winter, in the midst of a losing season, the Boilermakers shocked the Badgers in Madison's Kohl Center.
"It's about Coach Painter's approach to playing Wisconsin," senior Terone Johnson said. "He knows exactly how to play against them. Up and down the board, he knows how they rebound, how they play offense, things like that, and we've been able to slow ourselves down, not take bad shots and to get the shots we want, and that balances out our defense."
Painter's points of emphasis against Wisconsin aren't all that different from the points he makes about any opponent, preaching ball security, sound decision-making, tenacious rebounding and other obvious things.
It's just that against Wisconsin, Purdue's pulled it off more often than not. When it's lost to the Badgers, games have been highly competitive.
"You have to be prepared to play their style and beat them at their own game," Painter said. "The one thing they've always done is take care of the ball. So you have to take care of the ball. And Bo's team's have always done a very good job with being efficient and shot selection. That's always what I've preached … you have to try to be a little bit better than them in areas they excel in."
The Badgers' slippage lately can be directly tied to defense, where they've atypically struggled lately.
The past three games - a 75-72 loss at Indiana; a 77-70 home loss to Michigan; and an 81-68 loss at Minnesota - have represented three of the top-five scoring outputs opponents have hung on Wisconsin this season, and the first two didn't matter. North Dakota scored 85 against the Badgers in November, but gave up 103.
Lately, Wisconsin has really struggled against penetration, allowing 52-percent shooting at Indiana; 55-percent shooting against Michigan; and 59-percent shooting at Minnesota, which played most of the game without leading scorer Andre Hollins.
Is Purdue in position to take advantage?
The Boilermaker guards generated next to nothing in the lane against Northwestern.
The Badgers have had trouble getting stops of late, but will present much the same issue for Purdue, with an extremely skilled and balanced offensive arsenal.
In Big Ten play, only Iowa has scored more than Wisconsin's average of 76 per game; only Michigan shoots a better percent than the Badgers' collective 48.5 percent.
Budding star Sam Dekker's skill at the 4 position makes for what amounts to a four-guard lineup for the Badgers; center Frank Kaminsky's Big Ten-leading three-point shooting - 45.8 percent for the entire season - makes for a lineup in which everyone can shoot.
Josh Gasser (42.9 percent) and Ben Brust (41.7 and a league-most 50 makes) are two of the Big Ten's best three-point shooters.
Experienced now after having to fill in for Gasser last year, guard Traevon Jackson is a better player than a year ago and a productive scorer.
"Any of those guys can go for 20 on you," Painter said.
Of note: Forward Nigel Hayes, who played for former Boilermaker Ryne Smith's father, Bruce, at Toledo Whitmer, is one of the Big Ten's top freshmen, averaging 7.1 points in 16 minutes per game. … AAU connections: Purdue's Hammons, Rapheal Davis and Bryson Scott and Wisconsin's Vitto Brown (Spiece) and Purdue's Jay Simpson and Kaminsky (Illinois Wolves 2012 team).
Prediction: This is the exact same situation as two seasons ago, when Wisconsin hit a midseason swoon, losing three in a row before visiting Purdue. It won that game to snap the streak and will look to do the same this time around. We'd be very wary of a desperate and angry Wisconsin, though Purdue has every reason to match that desperation and anger. Thing is, Purdue has been making things to hard on itself offensively, failing to capitalize on so many chances. And the Badgers will be very difficult to match up with defensively. Badgers get a very slight nod here. Very slight. Wisconsin 67, Purdue 65
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