Wisconsin and North Carolina have met only one time in the NCAA Tournament, and if this weekend’s Sweet 16 meeting is anything like their first clash, the fans are for a treat.
In 2005, Bo Ryan’s sixth-seeded Badgers gave the consensus No. 1 and Tar Heels all they could handle in the Elite Eight, losing to the eventual national champions 88-82.
It was Williams’ first national championship, and now that the roles are reversed, Ryan is looking to return the favor in search of his first Division I national title.
Wisconsin enters the Sweet 16 after a record-setting season in Madison. Ryan’s bunch earned the legendary coach his first career Final Four last year and has only built on that success by earning a No. 1 seed for the first time in school history.
All but one player (Ben Brust) returned from last year’s Final Four team. The Badgers have size, feature the potential National Player of the Year, deploy great shooters and play Ryan’s vintage, unselfish brand of basketball. Rarely in the Sweet 16 is North Carolina considered the underdog, but the Tar Heels will have to play their best to knock off the Badgers.
Other Sweet 16 Previews
No. 4 North Carolina vs. No. 1 Wisconsin
Region: West (Los Angeles)
Time: Thursday, 7:47 p.m. ET
Announcers: Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller and Dan Bonner
Line: Wisconsin by 5 1/2
Matchup to Watch: Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky vs. North Carolina's Brice Johnson/Joel James
North Carolina center Kennedy Meeks is doubtful to play, putting even more pressure on the Tar Heels' low post. Meeks is the top post scoring threat and leading shot blocker, so his absence would be felt. The svelte Johnson (6-9, 210) and underwhelming James (2.5 ppg, 1.9 rpg) would be charged with stopping what many consider to be the best player in the nation in Kaminsky. Watching Josh Gasser and Marcus Paige go head-to-head will be fun to watch as well.
Tournament Surprise: Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin
The second Hayes stepped onto the court as a freshman last year, his offensive talent has been obvious. But in postseason play for Wisconsin, he’s taken his game to another level. Hayes has added the 3-point shot to his repertoire after making just 15 shots from three during Big Ten play. In five postseason games, Hayes has made 9-of-20 from behind the arc. He’s topped his regular season scoring average (12.6) in both NCAA Tournament games and dropped a career-high 25 in the Big Ten title win over Michigan State. His inside-outside presence makes this offense virtually impossible to stop.
Wisconsin will win if…
The game isn’t one-dimensional against North Carolina on offense. Frank Kaminsky wasn’t at his best against Oregon and the Ducks nearly pulled off a shocker. However, he was picked up by the play of Hayes and Sam Dekker. Ryan’s multiple attack has dissected defenses all year and could be challenged by a Tar Heels unit that has held both Harvard (38.2 percent) and Arkansas (36.9 percent) to less than 40 percent shooting in the tourney.
North Carolina will win if…
Marcus Paige protects the basketball and makes shots. Wisconsin is known for its defense, but this isn’t one of Ryan’s best defensive teams and Paige is coming off a near perfect showing against Arkansas. He knocked down half of his shots (5-of-10) and posted a sterling 61 assist-to-turnover ratio. The Heels' schizophrenic offense goes as Paige goes.
Athlon Staff Predictions:
David Fox: Wisconsin 74-67
Braden Gall: Wisconsin 78-71
Mitch Light: North Carolina 83-81
Jake Rose: Wisconsin 65-60