WEST LAFAYETTE — The Big Ten season is only four games old. But already, Purdue’s brief jaunt has been like a tour of the conference’s best big men.
It’s featured bullies like Maryland’s Bruno Fernando, who ranks second in the conference in field goal percentage. Immovable 7-footers like Michigan’s Jon Teske. Athletes like Iowa’s Tyler Cook. And physically dominant low-post players like Michigan State’s Nick Ward.
Friday when the Boilermakers travel to Wisconsin (9 p.m., FS1), they’ll have to deal with arguably the best (and most unique) big man in the Big Ten.
Badgers senior Ethan Happ, a front-runner for Big Ten Player of the Year, ranks in the top five in several categories, including third in points (19.3), second in rebounds (10.3) and fourth in assists (4.7). Those three categories begin to provide a snapshot of the big man’s well-rounded game and the challenges he’ll pose for Purdue.
“He’s very fast for someone his size and very elusive,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “His decision making and his ability to pass and his ability to score at the rim just puts you in a bind. It points you in a bind different than everyone you face.
“He’s a guy that really doesn’t have a box you can put him in. They start him at the center. They play him at the four. But he just does a lot of good basketball plays. He’s one of those guys who if he was 6-foot, he’d still be a good player.”
Purdue (9-6, 2-2 Big Ten) will have to deal with this unique big man without one of its own. Painter said Evan Boudreaux, who started the last four games, will “definitely not” play Friday because of a groin injury. Boudreaux has been managing the injury for a little while, but when he went up for a layup against the Spartans, he tweaked it even more and was not able to return.
“It’s nothing major,” Boudreaux said. “Just have to attack it in rehab and get better as soon as I can.”
With Boudreaux out, Matt Haarms and Trevion Williams should share the minutes at the center position. The two big men bring contrasting body types and skillsets the Boilers hope can limit certain aspects of Happ’s game.
Haarms started the first 11 games of the season before Painter moved him to the bench, in search of a spark. The 7-foot-3 Dutchman ranks seventh in the Big Ten with 1.53 blocks per game and is uniquely mobile for his size. This combination could help challenge Happ around the rim.
“I can match that speed, that quickness,” Haarms said. “I just have to really sit low. You can’t be stiff-legged. If your legs are straight, he’s going to burn you.”
Williams, meanwhile, is the more solid, traditional big man. He’s coming off of his first career double-double of 13 points and 12 rebounds. His physicality and rebounding ability provides a completely different type of big man. It worked against Michigan State. Friday, time will tell if it works against Wisconsin’s double-double machine.
“(MSU) definitely boosts my confidence a lot," Williams said. "Those are some really good bigs, some of the best bigs in the Big Ten. Being able to compete at that high of a level with those guys, really gave me some confidence. From here on out, I’ve got to be ready. Coach knows I can play with those guys. The cat’s out of the bag. I’ve just got to be ready now.”