Happ, Swanigan headline premier matchup in West Lafayette

Bronson Koenig led the Badgers to a convincing win over Ohio State Thursday. 

Image By: Jessi Schoville

Last March, when Purdue forward Caleb Swanigan scored 27 points in a 91-80 victory over Ethan Happ and the Wisconsin Badgers, Swanigan wasn’t even the Boilermakers’ best frontcourt player.

A.J. Hammons was Purdue’s focal point then, while Swanigan was a mere understudy. The duo frequently played alongside each other, but Hammons, now a Dallas Maverick, was Purdue’s first option.

Sunday afternoon, when the No. 13 Badgers (2-0 Big Ten, 13-2 overall) visit West Lafayette, Ind., and the No. 20 Boilermakers (2-1, 13-3), all eyes will be on Swanigan, who is looking to recreate his stellar performance against UW from last season. But for all of Swanigan’s production, Wisconsin hopes Happ will be able to match him every step of the way. The two forwards are not only some of the best players in the Big Ten, but also the country.

According to Ken Pomeroy’s National Player of the Year rankings, Swanigan and Happ rank No. 3 and No. 4, respectively, halfway through the season. Swanigan, a former Mr. Indiana Basketball in 2015, is on pace for a historic season. He has already finished with at least 20 points and 20 rebounds four times this year. The rest of college basketball has only accomplished that three times, and he’s closing in on the single-season record of six such games.

On top of that, if Swanigan is able to sustain his 18 point, 13 rebound and two assist per game average for the remainder of the season, he will join Blake Griffin and Tim Duncan as the only other players to accomplish such a feat.

He is second nationally in rebounds per game and has 13 double-doubles in only 16 games. Yet for all of his dominance, Swanigan has yet to face off against a big man who is as dangerous as he is.

Last season it was Happ, not Swanigan, who won Big Ten Freshman of the Year. And this season, while Swanigan has been the more productive player, Happ hasn’t been far behind.

Happ has six double-doubles, and leads a team that is fifth in the nation with a plus-12.4 rebounding margin.

The Milan, Ill., product is averaging 13.1 points, 9.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists himself and, in Wisconsin’s victory over No. 25 Indiana last week, outscored one of the Big Ten’s best forwards, Thomas Bryant, 19-6.

The duo will spend a lot of time matched up against each other Sunday afternoon. But the Badgers’ other dangerous scoring options should also play a major factor.

Senior forward Nigel Hayes is coming off of a tepid 10-point performance against the Hoosiersm but Hayes finished the game with a game-high 30 points against Purdue last season.

Senior guard Bronson Koenig scored 17 points against Indiana and was 5-for-5 on 3-point attempts. Even senior guard Zak Showalter finished UW’s 75-68 victory with 14 points.

Sunday afternoon, all eyes will be on Happ and Swanigan, but UW has the weapons to minimize the marquee match.

If the Badgers do contain Swanigan, it would mark the first time since 1972 that UW has beaten Purdue and Indiana on the road in the same year. Even more impressively, it would be the first time since 1956 that a Big Ten team has won in Bloomington and West Lafayette in consecutive games.

Perhaps the biggest matchup of the Big Ten season tips off at 3:30 p.m. from the Exactech Arena.

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