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What to do about North Carolina’s height

UNC is the seventh tallest team in the country and rebounds like it. How can the Badgers combat that?

Northeastern v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

This year’s version of the North Carolina Tar Heels rebound the absolute hell out of the basketball. I just wanted to get that out of the way in the first line in case there was any confusion later on in this post. Ideally, as a writer, there would never be any confusion in my posts but...y’all have been reading my nonsense long enough to know that this isn’t always the case.

The Heels are the No. 1 rebounding team, not just in the ACC, but in the whole dang country. They rebound 41.3% of their misses! That’s absurd!! Freshman big man Day’Ron Sharpe also leads the country in offensive rebounding percentage. The whole country! Every single player!! In fact, it would be wise to just discuss the four mammoth men UNC rolls out in their rotation right quick.

ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament - North Carolina v Virginia Tech Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
  • Armando Bacot, 6-foot-10, 240 pounds, sophomore: OR% 14.7 (No. 22 in nation), DR% 22.6 (No. 121 in nation)
  • Garrison Brooks, 6-foot-10, 240 pounds, senior: OR% 8.2 (No. 350), DR% 17.6 (No. 425)
  • Day’Ron Sharpe, 6-foot-11, 265 pounds, freshman: OR % 18.8 (No. 1), DR% 24.1 (No. 69)
  • Walker Kessler, 7-foot-1, 245 pounds, freshman: OR% 19.4, DR% 21.5 (he doesn’t play enough minutes to qualify for the national leaderboard on KenPom)

UNC has the seventh tallest team in the nation and that has been a problem for every team they have faced. While Kessler doesn’t always get regular minutes he is more than capable of holding his own on the glass if called upon.

Bacot, Brooks and Sharpe, on the other hand, are in the regular rotation and are freaking menaces on the boards. Per’s five man lineup tool for UNC, the starting unit which features Bacot and Brooks is good (14.6 Adj efficiency margin) but the two best lineups feature Brooks and Sharpe (40.0 and 25.4 AdjEM respectively). Sharpe comes in and absolutely FEASTS on the opposition’s bench units.

Now, how can Wisconsin combat this?

Well, on the season the Badgers are one of the better defensive rebounding teams in the country, only allowing opposing teams to get 25.1% (No. 69) of their misses. The Badgers, also, aren’t a short team. Their average height is No. 41 in the nation. Nate Reuvers is 6-foot-11 and Micah Potter is 6-foot-10 and it may just be time to play those two guys together again.

For most of the last half of the season, Potter and Reuvers have just swapped out for each other in the lineup with each playing about half of the available “big man” minutes. However, per EvanMiya’s lineup tool again, when the two were on the court together good things happened! Of any two-man combo for Potter or Reuvers, their pairing had the highest chemistry AND the best AdjEM! Their team defensive efficiency was also an absurdly low 75.2 (which is good, low is good here).

One of the other keys, that I think sometimes gets overlooked in these discussions on tall dudes rebounding, is that Wisconsin’s short dudes are good rebounders too!

The Badgers guards get after the ball on the defensive glass and UNC’s guards are mostly non-factors in that regard. Brad Davison, D’Mitrik Trice and Jonathan Davis will be super important to try and negate some of UNC’s offensive rebounding prowess. It will be super important because a large part of North Carolina’s offense is second chance points.

UNC averages 16.7 second chance points per game, which is tops in the country, and outscores their opponents by 6.8 points per game on just second chance shots, also tops in the country.

In the Troubling Recent Stats Department, the Badgers have given up well over their season average in offensive rebounds in four of their last five games (and the fifth game they still gave up more than their season average it just wasn’t WELL over). Coincidentally (probably not) the Badgers are 1-4 in those games. Now, four of those games were against Iowa (twice), Illinois and Purdue, all teams with dominant big men, and while UNC doesn’t have a single player that is as good as Luka Garza, Kofi Cockburn or Trevion Williams, they have more big bodies to throw at the glass than those teams.

The Badgers are absolutely going to have to control the pace of this game if they want to win. Keep possessions in the mid-60s and UW will be right where they want to be. Anything above 70 and UNC is probably winning this game by double digits.

NCAA Basketball: Arkansas-Pine Bluff at Wisconsin Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

The UW guards are going to need to have their best rebounding performance of the season. Tyler Wahl is going to need to stay out of foul trouble because he is bouncy and is always contesting rebounds. I, dare say that Aleem Ford may even have to get his hands dirty and venture into the paint on occasion. Freshman big man Ben Carlson is back practicing fully as well, according to Greg Gard, but he hasn’t played since the beginning of the year.

This game will be won and lost on the glass. Let’s hope Wisconsin has the gumption to get it done.