Ol' Huckleberry Hound and his top-notch point guard Kendall Marshall defend their home court against the invading Badgers in the conclusion of the 13th annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
You want to know how well Wisconsin can shoot in a true road game? Against real competition? Wondering if North Carolina truly has what it takes to translate loads of talent into a national title juggernaut?
All these questions will be answered within the next 15 hours.
The game will be the second-ever contest between two Hall of Fame coaches in Bo Ryan and Roy Williams and their contrasting styles. The No. 9 Badgers will be stretched in ways they haven't been yet this season. Likewise, Wisconsin might be the most ruthlessly efficient team on both ends of the court that No. 5 North Carolina sees all year.
What I really like about this Badger team that gives them a chance tonight is its fire. That combination of heart, determination and enthusiasm that you see in guys like Josh Gasser, Ben Brust and Mike Bruesewitz you don't see every day. You sure didn't see it very often last year from Wisconsin's seniors Keaton Nankivil and Tim Jarmusz. But this edition is shaping up to be one of the more enjoyable Wisconsin teams to watch that I can remember. And that will still be true at the end of the night, win or lose.
The thing that sticks out the most to me about this game, however, is how nonchalant it feels compared to the Duke games of years past. Is this a sign that Wisconsin is now a true powerhouse or that I'm just getting old. Mostly I think it points to just how hyped up underdogs and their fans get to pull an upset.
At stake for the Badgers tonight is a league-leading seventh win in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, not to mention a gigantic March resume builder. It's also an opportunity for Roy's boys to right their own ship and proved the UNLV loss was a fluke.
Computers might really love Wisconsin, but the eye test says North Carolina is the heavy favorite.
The tale of the tape, via KenPom:
|Team||Off. Eff.||Def. Eff.||Tempo||eFG%||eFG% D||3P%||2P%||FTA/FGA||FT%||TO%||OR%||OR% D||Blk%||Stl%|
Basketball is a game of runs and matchups, as we all know. While the point guard matchup is the headliner in this one, it is just one of many important conflicts.
Despite the bonanza of articles comparing and contrasting Taylor with Marshall, odds are that UNC will stick Dexter Strickland on Taylor for the most part. Conversely, I would expect Taylor to spend some of his time guarding Marshall, but it won't be Taylor exclusively; there will be a healthy dose of Josh Gasser in there. So this dream scenario won't rear its head often tonight.
Both of these players embody the philosophy of their coach. Marshall runs the break and dishes the rock as well as any Roy Williams point guard has, despite lacking that sixth gear speed of a Ty Lawson. Marshall, just a sophomore, is averaging a ridiculous 10.8 assists per game through six games.
Taylor will have his work cut out for him and must have his best game of the year for UW to win. Drives into the paint are going to be met by athletic shot blockers. His physical strength can be neutralized by Carolina's length. He will have to be crafty -- and accurate -- off pick-and-rolls, both from mid-range and behind the arc. We have seen Taylor slowly get more assertive with his own offense of late (shot attempts: 10, 3, 7, 16, 15), perhaps because he knows he needs to bring it against the Tar Heels.
Harrison Barnes vs. Badger wings
I think the Barnes injury angle was overstated and you should expect him to be close to full-strength against the Badgers. Expect Ryan Evans to get first crack at him. I think Evans has the ability to do a decent job against Barnes, the question is, will he? That is to say, how many mental errors will Evans have. Barnes won't be able to sleep on Evans on the offensive end either, as the redshirt junior has become one of UW's go-to scorers.
Mike Bruesewitz doesn't have the foot speed to stay with Barnes, who I would treat the same as Kyle Singler. Singler went off for a quiet, efficient 28 points two years ago, but because Wisconsin held the rest of the Blue Devils in check UW got the win. And think the same hope is rational regarding Barnes.
Bigs up front
John Henson and Tyler Zeller and tall and athletic inside and that could mean foul trouble for Jared Beggren. Berggren has been much improved in that area this season, but this will be his first big test. The only silver lining would be that the Tar Heels are terrible free throw shooters. Beyond Berggren, Frank Kaminsky has been a pleasant surprise, but don't expect too much from a freshman off the bench in a hostile environment. Evan Anderson might foul out if Bo needs him to play even five minutes in this one.
Perhaps the biggest key in the entire game is the offensive glass. Though North Carolina is not statistically dominant in that department, Wisconsin is currently the stingiest team in the nation in giving up offensive rebounds, at just 18%. Berggren and Bruesewitz in particular, but also the Badger guards, must be diligent in continuing to keep the opponent away from its own misses. Or else.
I don't think people realize how efficient UNC has been so far. Henson in particular is an absolute shot eraser (18 blocks already) at 6'10". Scoring inside will be vital, yet difficult, since I don't think UW can count on shooting the lights out in Chapel Hill.
There seems to be a definite eight-man rotation in place for both squads. But given Rob Wilson's latest blunder in the BYU game, you have to wonder how many minutes Bo is willing to entrust to Wilson. If he's in the doghouse again, the options are to shorten the rotation or let Traevon Jackson get a crack at the Dean Dome. With UNC wanting to run, I don't see the rotation shortening though. Ben Brust will be a crucial element yet again with his outside shooting ability. The worry I have to him in this situation is that he gets caught up in North Carolina's faster pace and plays too fast himself, leading to turnovers or forced shots.
Roy brings a couple decent shooters with size off his bench in 6'7" sophomore Reggie Bullock and 6'6" freshman P.J. Hairston a. Both players shoot better than 45% on 3-pointers in 12-15 minutes per game. James Michael McAdoo (another frosh) brings some scoring punch to the front court.
You know I've got to give it to Bo. I mean, Roy, you gotta admit that anyone who can wins games scoring in the 50s has to be amazing, right?