In the Big Ten Conference, every game is of the utmost importance. When the Wisconsin Badgers (17-5, 7-3 Big Ten) welcome an opponent into the Kohl Center, anything short of a victory is viewed as a complete disappointment.
With the AP No. 11 Purdue (18-5, 7-3) making an appearance in Madison this past Tuesday, many experts predicted the Badgers to pull off the upset.
The Bo Ryan-led men in Cardinal and White have been one of the more dominant teams nationally while playing at home over the past few years. It would be farfetched to classify a victory over any conference opponent in Madison as an upset. With a blizzard brewing outside, UW was able to win the physical matchup, and prevail in one of the most anticipated Big Ten contests up to date.
Led by JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore, the Boilermakers looked to continue their surprising run through conference play. Having played the entire season without star forward Robbie Hummel, Purdue has been intent on silencing their critics throughout the year. Until their matchup with the Badgers, they had been fairly successful in doing so.
On this night though, Wisconsin—led once again by Jon Leuer, who scored 24 and added a career-high 13 rebounds—were able to reaffirm themselves as one of the more balanced teams in the nation.
Even the relatively quiet Ryan Evans was a key contributor, as he poured in 10 points off the bench. If the Badgers can actually get quality production from their reserves in the coming weeks, many experts will view them as a legitimate threat come March.
After overcoming a hot start to the second half by the Boilermakers, UW was able to buckle down and hold on for the 66-59 victory.
Prior to the Green Bay Packers defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV, the Wisconsin faithful had their eyes tuned to UW taking on a reeling Michigan State (13-10, 5-6) team in what was surely expected to be another classic Big Ten battle.
This match up proved to be far from that, as the Badgers dominated in all phases of the game. After shooting the lights out in the first half and storming to a 43-25 halftime lead, UW, led by Jordan Taylor and his career-high 30 points, slowed down a little bit in the second half.
Any team that can shoot 59 percent from the field for the entire 40 minutes of play, while going 11-of-17 from the 3-point arc, will be able to compete with any team in the country. The Badgers also converted on an astonishing 25-of-26 free throws from the charity stripe in their 82-56 trouncing of the men from East Lansing. After their heartbreaking defeat to the Spartans last month, the Badgers sent Michigan State well on their way to an NIT Tournament berth.
While defeating both Purdue and Michigan State surely would be a confidence boost for UW, the pollsters have finally started to give the Badgers a bit of respect. As the new AP rankings were released earlier today, Wisconsin moved up six spots and currently sit at No. 13.
On Wednesday the Badgers travel to Iowa to face the slumping Hawkeyes at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. This matchup could potentially be a trap game, as the minds of everyone in Madison are definitely looking forward to the game against Ohio State (24-0, 11-0) Saturday at the Kohl Center. Regardless of their sub-.500 record, every road game in the Big Ten is a challenge, and if UW can play as well as they are capable of playing, this game should go up as another ‘W’ for the Badgers.
If Wisconsin can make it to Saturday unscathed, the match up with No. 1 Ohio State has the potential to be one for the ages.
Led by freshman sensation Jared Sullinger, the Buckeyes currently sit as the lone undefeated team in Division I basketball. If Wisconsin can buckle down, play hard-nosed basketball by winding down the shot clock, consistently getting to the charity stripe and hitting open shots, an upset could be in the making.
Only a handful of games remain during the regular season. If the Badgers can continue to work their way up the Big Ten rankings, a No. 3 or perhaps even a No. 2 seed come NCAA Tournament time are certainly within reach.