After 19-straight wins, a two-game losing streak for No. 6 Purdue was nothing to panic about. Especially considering that pair of losses came by a combined four points against fellow Big Ten frontrunners Ohio State and Michigan State. Those two setbacks could be reasoned away as a confluence of statistical probability and scheduling.
There’s nothing so simple and innocuous to explain the Boilermakers’ 57-53 loss to a rebuilding Wisconsin on Thursday at the Kohl Center.
There is cause for concern in West Lafayette.
The Badgers are simply not very good this season. That’s really a charitable description. They’re bad. Quite bad, even, given the standard that’s been long-established in Madison. Greg Gard’s team entered the night 11-16 overall and 4-10 in the Big Ten, losers of six of their last seven, nine of their last 11 and looking destined to be the first Wisconsin squad to miss out on the NCAA tournament in 20 years.
And it’s not as though the Badgers went just bonkers. They were 4 of 21 from 3-point range. Their true lone bright spot of this season, Ethan Happ, scored 21 points but needed 20 shots to do it. The team shot 39.2 percent from the floor and 65 percent from the free-throw line.
That is rarely a recipe for beating anyone, even on your home floor, and especially not the blueprint to claim a top-10 win.
Unless of course that top-10 opponent shoots just 39.6 percent, makes 4 of 17 3s and turns it over 13 times in a low-possession game. Which is, of course, exactly what Purdue did.
Not only did the Boilermakers no-show against the Badgers, but they suffered a significant blow in their bid for a Big Ten title and No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. This was a bad loss at a bad time with bad implications for the Boilermakers.
They let a below-average team dictate to them for nearly a full 40 minutes. Purdue never exerted its will against a Badgers team that, while no doubt feeling inspiring by Frank Kaminsky’s jersey retirement, had lost three-straight home games without being especially competitive in any of those losses.
Purdue was due a drawback after that long winning streak. It’s just near-impossible to keep up that level of play for more than two months. The middle of February can become a grind for any team. It’s the time of the season that is a true mental stress test with so much tread worn off the tire and March looking a bit like a mirage in the distance.
This three-game losing streak appears as though it could be more than that for Purdue, though. Losing to Ohio State and Michigan State looks like a couple tough nights. Falling to this Wisconsin team makes things look significantly more troubling.