Wisconsin basketball’s March Madness begins tomorrow against Purdue

MADISON, WISCONSIN - FEBRUARY 18: Wisconsin Badgers dance team member during the National Anthem before the game between the Wisconsin Badgers and Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Kohl Center on February 18, 2023 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images)
MADISON, WISCONSIN - FEBRUARY 18: Wisconsin Badgers dance team member during the National Anthem before the game between the Wisconsin Badgers and Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Kohl Center on February 18, 2023 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images) /

Despite their seemingly best efforts to play themselves out of contention, Wisconsin basketball has themselves “The Game of the Year” against Purdue tomorrow evening. In his latest “Bracketology” report on the NCAA website, Andy Katz has Wisconsin still listed as being in the group of “Last Four In”. Almost better than that, Michigan is listed in the category of “First Four Out”.

Who knew on December 3rd that Wisconsin’s overtime win at Marquette, who is currently projected to be a #2 seed,  would not only be their biggest win of the season but probably the victory that propelled Wisconsin to its current ranking?

Wisconsin’s biggest victory, that is, until the defeat until they defeat the current #5 Purdue Boilermakers.

And here’s how they can do it. I’ve looked at Purdue’s five losses on the season in an attempt to isolate common factors that caused the Boilermakers to fall in defeat.

All statistics, unless noted otherwise, are for Big Ten games only.

Purdue’s Strengths

Zack Edey. The mere mention of his name is supposed to strike horror in basketball players around the world. At least the media would like to make you think so.

Look, he’s a dominant player, to be sure. The funny thing is, being dominant doesn’t guarantee a Purdue victory.

Edey’s scoring average for the season is 22.3 points per game. His average scoring in the five games Purdue has lost?

24 points per game. That includes a 33-point outburst in the first contest against Indiana.

Because of Edey’s impressive offensive capabilities, many teams have focused their entire game plan on stopping him.

This stat clearly shows that you do not need to stop Zach Edey in order to beat Purdue. You don’t even have to slow him down.

When your “National Player of the Year” candidate is 7’4″ and has not fouled out all season, you better be good at rebounding. And Purdue is leading the Big Ten, averaging 10.6 offensive and 35.4 total rebounds per game.

Yet even this does not insure victory, as they averaged 12.4 offensive boards and 35.2 total rebounds per game.

Purdue’s areas of weakness

One of the first things that I looked at when trying to find a weak point in Purdue’s armor was turnovers.

The Boilermakers are 11th in the conference with 11.7 turnovers per affair. In their five losses, they averaged 12.0 turnovers per game. In only one of those losses were they significantly under their season average.

In addition, they are 13th in the Big Ten with a -1.21 turnover margin per game.

Purdue’s offense is strong, averaging 71.1 points per game and shooting 45.9% from the floor.

Not surprisingly, their average scoring in the five losses was 64.2 and 41.2% shooting. They only scored above their season average in two out of those five contests.

Another potential area that Wisconsin can exploit is Purdue’s mediocre 3-point shooting. For the season, they are averaging 6.6 made threes for a percentage of 34.8%

In their five defeats, they averaged making 5.0 threes per game and shooting 24.7 from downtown.

How does Wisconsin basketball win?

One of the Badger’s greatest strengths all season has been ball security and winning the turnover game. In conference play, they average 8.7 turnovers and have a margin of 3.16 per game.

With their excellent ball security and turnover margin advantage, Wisconsin should be able to win the turnover battle and the easy buckets that come with them.

Last game notwithstanding, Wisconsin’s games are usually slower-paced and lower-scoring. It may not be the most exciting brand of basketball, but when the Badgers are executing properly, it is effective.

Teams that are much faster-paced, as Purdue is, can become frustrated, and attempting to speed the pace up oftentimes leads to even more frustration. This could potentially lead to a very large turnover margin in favor of the Badgers.

On the season, Wisconsin is averaging 7.8 3-pointers made per game and 141 total made for the season. By comparison, their opponents are averaging 6.3 points per game and have a total of 113 made 3’s.

If the Badgers can harass the Boilermakers’ outside shooters, this is another area that Wisconsin can exploit for a large, positive point differential.

Finally, road games in the Big Ten are tough. Even though Wisconsin has lost a few inexplicable games at home this season, the Kohl Center and the “Scumbag” fans of the Badgers can create a very raucous environment. In their last 10 matchups in the Kohl Center, Wisconsin is 6-4 against Purdue, with the average score of Wisconsin 66 – Purdue 64.

I’m not saying it will be easy and by no means am I certain that they will do it. But, there is a definite road to a victory for Wisconsin basketball and March Madness.

Unless they had a colossal breakdown against Minnesota and lost their first Big Ten tourney game, I think a win would all but ensure their ticket getting punched.

Even a loss doesn’t eliminate the chance of dancing in the Madness, but then it would take a miracle run to win the Big Ten tournament.