Caleb Swanigan notched yet another double-double, finishing with 18 points and 13 boards as No. 20 Purdue picked up a critical win in their pursuit of a Big Ten title, knocking off No. 13 Wisconsin, 66-55.
Here are four things that we learned from Sunday’s win:
1. Maybe Wisconsin isn’t the clear favorite in the Big Ten title race: Because that’s the way that it seemed entering the weekend. Indiana had lost three straight games, including a game to Wisconsin in Assembly Hall. Purdue already had a loss on to their name, falling at home against Minnesota. If the Badgers had managed to win in Mackey Arena, they would have a two game lead on the two other ranked teams in the conference which would have included wins on both of their home floors.
But that didn’t happen.
Purdue got the win, which, when combined with Nebraska’s loss to Northwestern on Sunday afternoon, means that the Boilermakers actually sit on top of the conference.
2. But it wasn’t just the fact that Purdue won: Purdue is good. We know that. Mackey Arena is a tough place to win. The Boilermakers were favored. No one should be surprised when Matt Painter’s club protects its home floor.
It was how Purdue won that made a statement. After outplaying the Badgers in the first half, Purdue jumped all over Wisconsin to open the second half, as a 14-2 run pushed their lead to as many as 16 points. The Badgers had looked terrific since they got back from the Maui Invitational, when the adjustment was made to use Nigel Hayes as a point forward. We knew losses were coming at some point in league play, but seeing Purdue beat them so soundly was a good sign.
3. Purdue is more versatile than you think: The Boilermakers have used a few different starting lineups this season, and the most recent features Isaac Haas coming off the bench with Vince Edwards, who is more of a small forward, playing at the four. But Edwards was not all that effective on Sunday, which gave Haas, who finished with 13 points, a chance.
I say all that to say this: Most people think of Purdue as a team with the twin towers, and that’s certainly a look that has been effective for them. But it’s not the only way they can play. They go four-around-one (Swanigan, who has been playing at an all-american level). They can play with two points guards, Carsen Edwards and P.J. Thompson. They shoot, as a team, 40.5 percent from three, which is ninth nationally, and are in the top 100 in pace.
In other words, for a team with a reputation for having such a dominant front line, Purdue certainly isn’t just a one-trick pony.
4. You shouldn’t be worried about Wisconsin: So the Badgers aren’t quite good enough to run away with the Big Ten title, but did you ever really think that they were? Because I didn’t. That supposed gap between the Badgers and the rest of the Big Ten said more about the Big Ten than it did Wisconsin.
Don’t get me wrong, I really like this Wisconsin team. I still think they’re the best team in the conference. I still think they’re somewhere in the top 10-15 teams in America. I still think that they should make it to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament and have a shot at getting to the Final Four.
They’re a good team.
But there is a big difference between being good and being good enough to coast through a conference like the Big Ten.
What Sunday told us was that Purdue will be in the mix – with Wisconsin – when it comes to winning the league title.