Purdue may have been selected as the preseason favorite to win the Big Ten, but hasn’t opened conference play as if it deserved that title.
The team that won the crown last year sure has.
The 14th-ranked Boilermakers take their third crack at their first Big Ten victory on Sunday as they try to halt reigning conference champion Wisconsin’s unbeaten start in league play.
Purdue (11-4, 0-2) leads the conference with 21 championships, but hasn’t won one since 1996. Still, it was voted the front-runner for the title this offseason after going 25-9 in 2007-08, including 15-3 in Big Ten games to finish second in the conference behind Wisconsin, which went 16-2.
The Badgers (12-3, 3-0) were chosen to finish third despite posting school records in overall wins (31) and league victories en route to capturing the program’s third conference crown in seven years.
The only blemishes on their Big Ten schedule were upset losses to the Boilermakers, 60-56 at Mackey Arena on Jan. 26 and 72-67 at home on Feb. 9. Since that defeat, the Badgers have won 13 straight against conference foes, including three victories in last season’s Big Ten tournament en route to the title.
While Wisconsin rides that streak, Purdue has opened its league slate with back-to-back defeats for the first time since opening 0-3 in 2005-06, when it went 3-13 in conference play in coach Matt Painter’s first season at the helm.
Painter’s squad lost 71-67 in overtime to Illinois at Mackey Arena on Dec. 30 in its Big Ten opener, then fell 67-64 at Penn State on Tuesday night.
“We can’t wait until we’re down three or four games in the Big Ten,” senior forward Marcus Green said. “We have to turn it on now.”
Having Chris Kramer (sprained left foot) and Robbie Hummel (back spasms) out of action could be partly to blame for the latest conference loss.
Kramer, a defensive specialist who has started 11 games, is expected to return Sunday, but Hummel remains uncertain. The conference’s preseason player of the year, Hummel is second on the Boilermakers with 13.8 points per game and averages a team-high 8.1 rebounds.
In Hummel’s absence Tuesday, E’Twaun Moore stepped up to score 21 points and went 7-of-14 from the field but the rest of Purdue’s starting lineup combined for 26 points on 10-of-26 shooting. Moore, a sophomore guard who leads the team with 15.0 points per game, combined for 27 in two games against Wisconsin last season.
The Badgers’ only win in 32 games at Purdue over the last 36 years was a 77-68 victory on Jan. 5, 2005.
Wisconsin could reclaim a spot in the AP Top 25 with a win, having received 86 votes in the most recent poll. It was ranked No. 25 in mid-November.
The Badgers have won six of seven overall, including a 74-45 home victory over Northwestern on Wednesday as Jason Bohannon scored a career-high 20 points.
Wisconsin turned in a strong defensive effort, limiting Northwestern to 31.4 percent shooting - the lowest for any Badgers opponent - but coach Bo Ryan knows there is still plenty of room for improvement.
“I’ll be able to find 20-30 things we did not do well on some of those possessions when we didn’t cover well and handle those screens,” Ryan said. “When you look at a number, our guys did a pretty good job, but there are things to do better.”
Wisconsin dropped its first three games of the season against ranked teams before winning 73-61 at then-No. 23 Michigan on Dec. 31 to open conference play.