Spotlighting Purdue/Wisconsin



by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

Now that we've had a run-through of all the college basketball board conferences here in the NOTEBOOK, we're going to spend some time the next couple of weeks focusing on:

*Big TV Games
*The Strengths and Weaknesses of Major Teams
*The Bracketology Picture

We'll do those conference run-throughs again for sure before the conference tournaments start. Time permitting, we'll do a run through in advance of that as well. Of course, many of the marquee TV matchups we'll be previewing will have significant conference ramifications as well. So, we'll talk some big picture stuff at the conference level as we go along.

That will certainly be the case today, as Purdue/Wisconsin is a very big game at both the Big 10 and national levels. We're looking at the second and third best teams in the league right now by all measures. And, we're possibly looking at teams who will be seeded as high as 3-5 in the Big Dance. Maybe a #2 for one of them is they close hot. Maybe a couple of #3 of #4 caliber teams if they maintain their current distance over the rest of the conference.

If you're an avid basketball fan, you'll be watching this game tonight…and you'll be seeing A LOT of Purdue and Wisconsin the rest of the way.

We're going to start today by looking at the two teams as they match up. Then, we'll step back and see what this game means in the big picture.

The first thing you need to know about Purdue and Wisconsin is that they play very different paces. Purdue is average in that regard, while Wisconsin is one of the slowest teams in the country. The Badgers will patiently pass the ball around FOREVER trying to get a good shot. They believe this allows them to maximize the potential of every possession, while preventing opponents from getting an offensive rhythm going.

Why is this important? Because it creates illusions in the “volume” stats many handicappers and almost all TV announcers like to use. If we asked you right now, who has the better defense, you'd say Wisconsin because they play lower scoring games. If we asked you who had the better offense, you'd say Purdue, because it looks like everyone has a better offense than Wisconsin.

Check this out…

DEFENSIVE EFFICIENCY (Pace adjusted Defense)
Purdue 13th nationally
Wisconsin 35th nationally

Once you account for tempo, it's PURDUE that actually has the better defense. They allow fewer points per possession than Wisconsin does, thereby giving themselves a better chance to win games. Purdue is, in fact, one of the best 15 defensive teams in the country. Wisconsin, who has a reputation for GREAT defense doesn't crack the top 25. Hey, more than 300 teams play Division I basketball, so 35 is still a stellar ranking. Just be careful giving them too much credit on defense when comparing them to other powers. They're not quite the stingy group you've been led to believe.

OFFENSIVE EFFICIENCY (Pace adjusted Offense)
Wisconsin 3rd nationally
Purdue 14th nationally

Whoa! Wisconsin's OFFENSE rises up to superstar status once you account for tempo. They really do maximize the value of their offensive possessions. So, the defense isn't as good as you thought, but the offense is significantly better. Wisconsin isn't winning games because they defend with a passion and hope to barely outscore what they allow. Wisconsin is winning games because they've mastered the halfcourt game in a way that gives them possession-by-possession scoring edges.

Purdue grades out very well here obviously as well. This is why the two teams are getting so much national respect. They are terrific teams.

What's the point differential between the two? We've got a tool for that. This deep into the season, we believe CONFERENCE MARGIN AVERAGES to a great job of expressing point differentials because everyone's playing the same confined schedule in league play.

Purdue: +7.9
Wisconsin: +7.5

Roughly a half-point edge for Purdue on a neutral floor. Wisconsin is at home tonight. Alot three points for home court, and we're looking at Wisconsin by about 2.5 as a preliminary projection. That's in line with what we've seen in the possession-adjusted rankings. Purdue's a slightly better team.

We can't say as we go to press whether or not Purdue/Wisconsin will definitely be a part of JIM HURLEY'S Tuesday Night slate. NETWORK only releases the best value plays on the board. We can tell you that the team has been giving this game top priority because we know how much you live winning TV games, and because we've learned a lot from watching recent Big 10 action. Of note:

*Purdue is only 3-3 its last six games (including a non-conference loss at West Virginia). And, it was almost 2-4 but the Boilermakers won a last-second finish at home against Penn State. They've been inconsistent needless to say, with double digit wins over Michigan State and Minnesota, but a very bad loss at Ohio State that suggested the Boilermakers have a ways to go before being considered a true Final Four threat.

*Wisconsin is only 4-3 its last seven games, and is coming off a loss to Penn State this past weekend. The Badgers haven't played Ohio State or Purdue yet, which means they may be due for a rude awakening. If you're splitting with Illinois, and going 4-3 against a cross-section of conference foes, then you may not be ready to step up in class. Tonight's game is VITAL for Wisconsin in terms of setting the tone for the tough challenges that remain.

In terms of the big picture, we know people who think the Big 10 is terrific this year…and we know people who think it's extremely overrated. Let's run through a cross-section of thought for more context on what tonight's game means.

Ohio State: #1 seed
Purdue #3 seed
Wisconsin: #5 seed
Illinois: #5 seed
Michigan State: #6 seed
Minnesota: #6 seed
Penn State: not in (8 spots away)

That's six teams earning invitations if the event were held today, though Penn State is coming on strong recently (while Michigan State is falling like an anvil). Purdue is currently seen as a top 12 team, even if they weren't competitive at Ohio State. Wisconsin is a couple of rungs below them, neck and neck with the Illinois team they just split with.

Ohio State: 1st
Purdue: 8th
Wisconsin: 15th
Illinois: 27th
Minnesota: 31st
Michigan State: 32nd
Penn State: 60th

Jeff Sagarin's computer ratings at USA Today aren't too far off of the bracket stuff, though Illinois falls a few spots here (they'd equate to a 7th seed in this measure). We're still looking at Purdue and Wisconsin as teams expected to be a force in March, even if it's just reaching the Sweet 16 or Elite 8.

Ohio State 1st
Wisconsin 8th
Purdue 9th
Illinois 18th
Michigan State 38th
Minnesota 43rd
Penn State 46th

Ken Pomeroy's very respected rankings are much more optimistic about the Big Ten than many other sources. He has tonight's spotlight teams in the top 10, and Illinois in the top 20. If Pomeroy were in charge of the Big Dance, Penn State would be a seventh team getting a bid. You can see why tonight's game is so important for analysts. A head-to-head battle will help everyone see if Purdue and Wisconsin really are both top 10 caliber teams, but could also expose one (or both) as pretenders.

We've got the Big Ten margin averages handy. Let's see what they show for the contenders only (this isn't a conference preview article, so we won't run all 11 teams).

Ohio State: +9.3
Purdue: +7.9
Wisconsin: +7.5
Illinois: +4.0
Penn State: +0.8
Minnesota: +0.1
Michigan State: -0.8

We think that better captures recent form, with Penn State moving past Minnesota and Michigan State. Wisconsin shows up well here with a high number, but still has those four games left with Purdue and Wisconsin. It's possible the Badgers have been feasting on a weaker schedule so far.

Our full Tuesday slate, possibly including Purdue/Wisconsin will go up a few hours before the first tip this afternoon. You can purchase it online with your credit card. Or, sign up for the full season and start your Road to MARCH MADNESS tonight. If you have any questions, call the office at 1-800-323-4453.

Back tomorrow to try and untangle the messy Big East on a very important night for that league. Thursday we'll move to the Pac 10 to check in on Washington's chances to be a Dance darkhorse again this season. Kentucky/Florida will be our Saturday spotlight game as we try to touch on all the major conferences in short order. Our STAT PREVIEW for the SUPER BOWL will to up bright and early Sunday morning so you'll have plenty of time to take care of business on the biggest legal betting game of the year.

Be sure you're with us EVERY DAY so you know what's REALLY happening in the world of sports!

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