Five Badgers will suit up for their final game at the Kohl Center Sunday when Purdue (6-9 Big Ten, 13-15 overall) visits Wisconsin (11-4, 20-8) in the midst of UW’s push to capture a share of the regular season conference championship.
Wisconsin’s five-man class—guards Dan Fahey and J.D. Wise and forwards Jared Berggren, Mike Bruesewitz and Ryan Evans—is the second largest in the Bo Ryan era, only smaller than the 2010-’11 UW team that fell to Butler in the Sweet 16.
Going into Sunday’s matchup, Wisconsin’s 2013 seniors will have been a part of 49 Big Ten wins and 95 overall (the Badgers also finished 10-8 in the conference and 20-13 overall during Berggren and Evans’ redshirt season).
In contrast to the Badgers’ senior-laden squad, the Boilermakers have one of the more inexperienced teams in the conference. The Purdue roster boasts just five total upperclassmen, and six of its top eight minutes-earners are either freshmen or sophomores.
The young Boilermakers have not found much success on the road this season. Its two Big Ten wins away from Mackey Arena came at Penn State and Nebraska, two of the conference’s bottom three teams.
Further, Purdue has yet to win a Big Ten game against an opponent with a better conference record than its own. It knocked off then-No. 11 Illinois in the teams’ league opener, and its win over Iowa came at a time when the Hawkeyes were a measly 2-5 in the Big Ten.
With a crucial matchup looming against the Spartans in East Lansing, Mich., next week, Wisconsin’s matchup with the Boilermakers certainly has the makings of a trap game. Whether that’s the case, only the guys on the UW roster know, but it doesn’t appear they’re approaching it that way.
“We’ve got Purdue next. They’re a young team, a team that plays extremely hard,” Berggren said after the Badgers’ 77-46 win over Nebraska Tuesday. “They’re gonna give us a good challenge here. We just gotta take it one game at a time.”
In addition to Purdue’s struggles against superior league competition and on the road, the unlikelihood of a trap game for Wisconsin is further manifested in UW’s dominance of late. The Badgers have won their last three games by an average of 27 points, with their smallest margin of victory coming in a 22-point drubbing over then-No. 13 Ohio State. They didn’t lead by fewer than 12 points in the second half in any of those games.
Wisconsin will need a bit of good fortune if it wants to finish atop the conference at season’s end. However, UW could certainly put itself in position to do so if it maintains its recent command. Berggren said in addition to the Badgers’ offensive firepower, they’re shoring things up on the defensive end, too.
“We’re shooting better, which is a big part of why it looks so good—we’re just hitting shots right now,” Berggren said. “Defensively we’re getting things all on the same page here and we’re playing hard.
“Hopefully we’ll close things out in the Big Ten and hope for the best as far as getting the help we need to be able to compete for a title.”