North Carolina Looks to Bounce Back Against WisconsinPosted by KCarpenter on November 30th, 2011
After a tough loss to UNLV, North Carolina faces a tough match-up if it wants to bounce back: a slow, methodical, and lethal Wisconsin Badgers. Though Bo Ryan‘s team has yet to be truly tested, with the best win on its résumé a neutral court win over the Jimmer-less Brigham Young University, Wisconsin’s style seems tailor-made to challenge the Tar Heels.
The two teams are diametrically opposed in terms of pace with the Badgers plying at the slowest pace in Division I and North Carolina playing at the fifth quickest. North Carolina’s primary struggle against the Rebels was difficulty defending the three-point line; Wisconsin has shot 47.2% from beyond the arc on the season. The Badgers aren’t shy about shooting the long ball either, shooting 42.6% of all field goals from long range. North Carolina was exposed on Saturday as a team that wasn’t prepared to adequately defend the perimeter and if Roy Williams hasn’t corrected this issue, the Tar Heels are in for a long night.
Defensively, Wisconsin has been stout. For the past few years, Wisconsin has had a reputation as an incredible defensive club, and while the Badgers have been good, the defensive prowess of the team has been overrated because of an over reliance on “points per game” and “scoring margin.” Since 2009, Wisconsin has combined a sloth-like pace with brutally efficient offense and good, but not great defense. Folks see the low final score and the impressive scoring margin and figure that the team locked down their opponent. In recent history, that’s not really been the case. This year, however, the defensive reputation has been earned albeit against an extremely weak schedule.
The Badgers currently lead Division I by holding opponents to an effective field goal percentage of 33.2%. For reference, the best overall mark in this category last year was Florida State which managed to hold opponents to 42.4%. Wisconsin has locked down the interior and the perimeter. They lead the nation in defensive rebounding percentage and rarely ever foul opponents. So far, the defense has been essentially perfect. Now let me tell you why North Carolina will win this game.
As good as Wisconsin is, their style of play works in Carolina’s favor for a couple of reasons. One of the key factors that troubled UNC against UNLV was foul trouble in the frontcourt. Tough physical play and frequent fouls led to a frustrated Tyler Zeller and John Henson taking frequent trips to the bench. Wisconsin, for all of its strengths, is the worst team in the country at drawing fouls. Combine that with a tendency for slow pace and it means that UNC’s starting front court can stay on the court for most of the game. This is important because UNC has a significant size advantage over Wisconsin. Aside from the 6’10” Jared Berggren, who is having an excellent break-out year, the Badgers have been playing a fairly small rotation. Ben Brust and Jordan Taylor are both 6’1″, while Josh Gasser is only 6’3″, and Mike Bruesewitz and Ryan Evans both top out at 6’6″. Bo Ryan has some size on the bench, but these players have barely seen playing time. While the size advantage in the front court is obviously significant for UNC, especially considering that Wisconsin doesn’t particularly excel at offensive rebounding (teams that have have given UNC problems), the size in the back court might make a bigger difference. Carolina is stocked with big, strong and quick guards who have the size and athleticism to really body up on guys on the defensive end and overpower / shoot over guys on the offensive end.
North Carolina also has a few small edges that might add up to a significant advantage over the course of the game. The first is that Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin’s star point guard, just hasn’t been himself so far this season. While Taylor’s game has remained excellent in terms of playmaking and three-point shooting he hasn’t had a lot of early success with the complete offensive game that made him so deadly last year. For whatever reason, Taylor’s struggled shooting the ball from mid-range and his tendency to draw fouls has greatly decreased. An off-Taylor, playing in Wisconsin’s first true road game against their most challenging opponent to date could amount to the Badger’s simply having an off-game. Compounding that problem, there seems to be little doubt that Carolina will be focused.
Since the UNLV loss, Roy Williams and his team’s players have spoken of tough, rigorous practices and a greater concentration on the part of all the players. In tonight’s game, UNC feels like it has something to prove. With this being the first big, meaningful home game of the year, all the pieces are in place for Carolina to make a big confident statement against one of the country’s best teams.
Ultimately, however, this game may simply come down to the elements that were missing in Las Vegas: Tyler Zeller and Harrison Barnes ability to carry their share of the offensive load for their team. Despite Barnes’ reported ankle problem, these two players are perhaps the most driven, mature, and professional players on the team. They both loathe losing. I’d be surprised if they didn’t come into the Dean Dome prepared to play hard. Wisconsin is a tough match-up for North Carolina, but teams that have something to prove are always the most dangerous.