January 9, 2009

UW-Purdue set for early conference clash

Wisconsin has stormed out of the conference gates with three consecutive wins over Michigan, Penn State and Northwestern. Meanwhile, a banged-up Purdue squad has limped to a 0-2 start to conference play. On Sunday, the two teams will square off in a key early-season conference clash.

Before this weekend's nationally televised game, BadgerBlitz.com is happy to welcome basketball beat writer Brian Neubert from GoldandBlack.com to discuss the match-up.

The following questions were provided by this site and answered by Neubert:


1.) Obviously there has been plenty of hype surrounding this team from the get go after last season's performance. I know there have been some injuries of late, but how disappointing is the 0-2 start in league play? And even though it is early in league play, is this game against Wisconsin a must win for the Boilers?

Neubert: The 0-2 start is definitely disappointing, but I'd suspect Purdue would be 2-0 and humming right along if Robbie Hummel and Chris Kramer were healthy.

That said, with those two completely healthy, there's still been something missing, so I'm not saying Purdue would be some juggernaut with them, but they'd have been good enough to win the last two games.

Purdue's struggling with more than just injuries, though. Inexplicably, its terrific three-point shooting from a year ago is now horribly inconsistent. And the Boilermakers aren't a great defensive team in the half court and now they're not shooting free throws terribly well either. That cost them the Illinois game.

And Purdue just isn't a very good rebounding team, particularly with Hummel banged up.

Not having Hummel and Kramer at full strength adversely impacts Purdue at both ends of the floor, more than people might think.

2.) What is the status of Hummel and Kramer? Will they play against UW and what would you expect out of them after having missed recent game action?

Neubert: That remains to be seen. They both could possibly play Sunday, but how effective they'll be remains to be seen. These injuries could linger all season for all we know.

Hummel played against Illinois, but his back was clearly killing him. He wasn't moving around well and he endured his third off night shooting in a row, very uncharacteristic for as consistent a player as you'll find.

Kramer could be on fire and he'd still play, so the fact he sat out vs. Penn State speaks volumes, in my opinion. He's been hurt in some form or another his entire career - it's just the cost of doing business for a guy who plays the way he does - and he's never let it hold him back. So, he's legitimately hurt.

3.) Wisconsin is coming off arguably its most complete game of the season where it beat Northwestern by 29 points. A key component to that blowout was UW's defense. Even if Hummel and Kramer play, assuming they may not be 100 percent, what does Purdue need to do in order to counteract UW's very difficult defense?

Neubert: I think Purdue's issues are more the worry now. It just has to shoot the ball better and get in a better offensive flow. Right now, they're struggling to get good, high-percentage shots and routinely taking bad ones altogether.

For Purdue to be successful offensively, ordinarily, it has to be able to get easy baskets off its pressure defense, knock down three-pointers and thrive off its offensive balance. None of that's been happening lately, with the injuries of course playing a heavy hand in it.

4.) For the Badgers, Marcus Landry has really hit a stride since conference play started. In UW's three conference games, Landry is averaging 17 points per game. How much emphasis is being placed on slowing him down and limiting his production in the post.

Neubert: I'm sure a lot. He's a great player, and Purdue knows him well, through his brother and from having recruited him.

He'll be a difficult match-up for the Boilermakers, particularly if Hummel's limited. What Purdue will have to do is try to make it difficult for Wisconsin to get him the ball in position to scorer and keep him off the offensive glass.

Easier said than done.

5.) Wisconsin is the defending Big Ten champs although Purdue was right in the league race until the very end last season. Knowing that and knowing this game will take place at Mackey Arena, a place UW has historically struggled, what can we expect the atmosphere to be like? Do Boilermaker fans get more amped for a game against a team that has had as much success as UW has had under Bo Ryan?

Neubert: It should be a pretty wild atmosphere, it being a Sunday afternoon, nationally televised game against a great opponent. Mackey Arena's really been restored as a very difficult place to play, largely because of a great student section. School doesn't start back up until Monday, though, so it'll be interesting to see how many students come back to campus early for the game.

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