Purdue states case as Big Ten's best with double-digit win over Wisconsin

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AP

Purdue states case as Big Ten's best with double-digit win over Wisconsin

We know the middle of the Big Ten is wide open, but what about the top?

Wisconsin entered as the consensus favorite, undefeated in its first two conference games, but perhaps Purdue belongs at the forefront of the conversation after the Boilermakers lit up the Badgers on Sunday afternoon at Mackey.

Purdue shot the lights out to the tune of 52.2 percent as Wisconsin struggled offensively in a 66-55 game, one that saw a dominant performance from Caleb Swanigan. The Boilers' big man scored 18 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, doing it all with his 14th double-double of the season. He's posted a double-double in each of his last eight games.

The Badgers' rough offensive afternoon started early. They shot just 34.5 percent from the field and went through an ugly scoreless stretch that lasted nearly six minutes. The Badgers got just one basket — a Khalil Iverson dunk — during a nearly nine-minute stretch and ended the first half without a 3-pointer, 0-for-6 as a team. But Purdue couldn’t do too much to capitalize in the first half. The Boilers shot a stellar 52.6 percent and got a couple big 3s from Dakota Mathias, one that put them up 10 with under four minutes until halftime. But Purdue turned the ball over a whopping 11 times over the first 20 minutes, leading directly to seven Wisconsin points.

The Badgers kept it close enough in the opening stages of the second half and had an opportunity to close within a possession when the game turned around. A Boilers turnover led to a breakaway for Wisconsin guard D'Mitrik Trice, but he was caught too far under the basket and blew the fast-break layup. Purdue's P.J. Thompson went down and splashed in a 3-pointer to turn a four-point lead into a seven-point lead and kick off a 12-0 run that featured seven straight points from Ryan Cline.

Simultaneously, the Badgers went on another long scoring drought, more than four minutes without a point and almost five minutes without a made basket. Wisconsin couldn't close within single digits again, Purdue's 16-point advantage created by the 12-0 run hitting a game-high 17 en route to an 11-point victory.

The Badgers fared much better shooting the ball in the second half but still finished with a low 39-percent mark on the game. Bronson Koenig was pretty much nowhere to be found, scoring just nine points. Ethan Happ had a team-high 17 points and had a whopping six steals but struggled at times against Purdue seven-footer Isaac Haas. Nigel Hayes scored 10 points for the Badgers.

Swanigan led the way for the Boilers with his big day, and Haas was also in double figures with 13 points.

The win sent Purdue to 14-3 overall and 3-1 in Big Ten play. The Boilers next travel to play Iowa on Thursday.

The loss snapped a nine-game winning streak for Wisconsin and dropped its record to 13-3 overall and 2-1 in the conference. The Badgers take on Ohio State on Thursday.

Three Buckeyes, two Wolverines, two Badgers picked in NFL Draft's first round

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USA TODAY

Three Buckeyes, two Wolverines, two Badgers picked in NFL Draft's first round

After four Big Ten players were picked in the first round last year, it took a little while longer for the Big Ten train to leave the station in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft on Thursday night.

But in the end, seven players from the conference were selected in the opening 32 picks.

Ohio State's defensive secondary had the best night, with three Buckeyes defensive backs selected in the first round. Cornerback Marshon Lattimore was the highest Big Ten product chosen, selected by the New Orleans Saints with the No. 11 pick. Four picks later, safety Malik Hooker went to the Indianapolis Colts at No. 15. And cornerback Gareon Conley was taken with by the Oakland Raiders with the No. 24 pick.

A pair of Michigan defenders also heard their names Thursday night. Do-it-all star Jabrill Peppers, who's expected to settle in at safety in the pros, was picked by the Cleveland Browns at No. 25. Defensive lineman Taco Charlton went to the Dallas Cowboys with the No. 28 choice.

Wisconsin wrapped up the Big Ten's first-round contingent with two of the final three picks of the night. Linebacker T.J. Watt went to the Pittsburgh Steelers with the No. 30 selection, and offensive lineman Ryan Ramczyk was the No. 32 pick, heading to the Saints.

Only the SEC, with 12, had more players selected than the Big Ten.

Though not a surprise, one item of note was the Big Ten's first-round quarterback drought stretching another year. The last Big Ten quarterback selected in the first round of the NFL Draft was Kerry Collins, picked out of Penn State with the No. 5 selection in 1995.

Illini coach Brad Underwood on Mark Smith: 'First time I watched him, he reminded me of Deron Williams'

Illini coach Brad Underwood on Mark Smith: 'First time I watched him, he reminded me of Deron Williams'

Illinois athletics director Josh Whitman wanted to rekindle the glory days of Illini basketball when he made a coaching change last month, replacing John Groce with Brad Underwood.

Well, in a move that Groce rarely pulled off during his five-year tenure in Champaign, Underwood scored a huge recruiting win right out of the gates on Wednesday, when the state's Mr. Basketball, Mark Smith of Edwardsville High School, announced he'd be signing with Illinois.

The four-star recruit who earned his title of the best boys basketball player in the Land of Lincoln this past season generated a ton of excitement across the Illinois fan base, and the obviously excited Underwood is already using language sure to bring back the same kind of feeling that accompanied those aforementioned glory days.

"He's an explosive athlete. He's a very gifted athlete," Underwood said of his newest signee when speaking with reporters Thursday in Champaign. "First time I watched him, he reminded me a little bit of a former (Illinois) player, Deron Williams, but probably a better shooter at the same time at this point their careers."

Oh really, coach?

When a recruit of this magnitude — Smith is ranked as the No. 52 player in this year's class by Rivals — signs up with a team, fans are unsurprisingly amped. But comparing Smith to one of the program's all-time greats, a player who was perhaps the best on the team that reached the 2005 national title game, is sure to stir folks up even more.

While any comparisons to NBA All Stars and Olympic gold medalists might be considered a tad hyperbolic, there's no doubting that Smith is a sensational athlete and that he's a huge get for the Illini, someone who could make an instant impact in Underwood's first season.

"Some people have labeled Mark a specialist, a shooter. I don't see him as that at all. I think he's a great playmaker. I think he's a guy that can play the point and be a tremendous asset because he makes his teammates better," Underwood said. "He does whatever is needed in the course of a game. If that's scoring, he's going to score. If the defense loads to him, he's an extremely high-IQ player, he's got great feel, he's got great instincts.

"And physically he's in a position to play right away. Everybody's seen his body type, and he's a strong athlete. Usually freshmen have to develop physically. Mark doesn't. Mark's dialed in there and a very strong young man. But his skill set is very unique, and he's very well rounded in all aspects."

While the kind of athlete Smith is and his on-court prowess will be how most fans and observers judge him, his decision to play at Illinois is big for two other reasons.

First, a new head coach rarely gets to pick his first crop of players. Underwood will start his tenure at Illinois with a roster comprised mostly of Groce's recruits, including a pair of incoming freshmen in Trent Frazier and Da'Monte Williams, four-star guards in their own right. But, while Smith was being courted by Illinois prior to the coaching change, Underwood is the one who Smith committed to, and Underwood can count Smith as his first import to this program.

That means shaping his program's culture as much as it does shaping its style of play.

"In every way," Underwood said when asked how Smith works with the program he's trying to build. "Character wins. Yes, you have to be a very good player, there's no doubt about that. But character and the culture — he's got tremendous leadership. And I think that was evidenced at his press conference yesterday and how many people showed up and former teammates. That's a tremendous trait. Not everybody can pull that off. People are drawn to him, he's got that personality about him.

"He loves his teammates here. He's talked about that at length already and his relationships. That's exciting because that's a young man who's going to fit in well. We want to build our program around young men who win off the court just as much as they win on the court."

Second, Smith is a big in-state recruit. As mentioned, that's not something Groce could claim a lot of success in attracting. He missed out on a lot of Illinois' finest high school basketball products, famously losing close battles for the services of Jalen Brunson and Cliff Alexander. Groce's program didn't even come close on others, like stars Jabari Parker and Jahlil Okafor, who both played for Chicago native Mike Krzyzewski at Duke.

Landing Smith, the best player in Illinois if you go by his Mr. Basketball title, gives Underwood a win in one of the main categories fans care most about: recruiting the state.

"I think the lifeblood of our program is recruiting. And to be able to get Mr. Basketball in this state? We should," Underwood said. "We've got to be the option. Not just an option, we've got to be the option. We're the University of Illinois, and we've got one of the proudest, most dynamic histories. We've got a great tradition, we've got a great fan base.

"I think it speaks volumes, and I'm excited about that. I think it's something we can continue to build on, and it sure beats the alternative of not getting him."