It's the fourth all-time meeting between North Carolina and Wisconsin on Friday night in Indianapolis, as two of college basketball's blue bloods try to pay off mediocre seasons with a first-round victory. These two played a very memorable Sweet 16 game back in 2015, with the Badgers moving on 79-72 as Frank Kaminsky put up 19 points in the victory.
Wisconsin limped to the finish down stretch falling in six of their last eight contests after a 15-6 start to the season. Meanwhile, UNC finished the regular season with a mediocre 18-10 season as they tried to find some semblance of consistency.
The winner of this game will most likely face Baylor in the second round, as the Bears take on Hartford in a 1-16 matchup.
South Region: No. 9 Wisconsin Badgers (17-12) vs. No. 8 North Carolina Tar Heels (18-10)
Time: Friday, March 19 at 7:10 p.m. ET
Where: Mackey Arena (West Lafayette, Ind.)
Spread: North Carolina -1.5
Keys for Wisconsin
The Badgers need to find a way to get their offense going, as they've scored less than 70 points in eight of their last 10 contests. They are led by D'Mitrik Trice (13.7 ppg) and Micah Potter (12.8 ppg) but need someone else to step up from the group of Brad Davison, Aleem Ford, and Nate Reuvers. Wisconsin is 292nd in the nation in 2-point shooting (46.3 percent), which will not cut it on Friday.
Another key for the nine seed is to keep the game at their pace. Only seven Wisconsin games have seen 70 possessions or more, and one of those was a 75-possession contest in double overtime vs. Indiana. This team is not going to keep up with North Carolina in a quicker-paced contest. They are really good at not turning the ball over, checking in second overall with turnovers on just 13.5 percent of their offensive possessions.
Keys for North Carolina
The Tar Heels are the best team in the country when it comes to offensive rebounds, picking up 41.3 percent of their misses. When they control the glass, they win basketball games. Problem is that at times they miss a lot with the 207th-ranked 2-point percentage and the 270th ranked 3-point shooting to go along with the 295th ranked free-throw rate. Kerwin Walton is the best three-point shooter, checking in at 41.5 percent, so he needs to loosen up the defense that will assuredly be packed in the middle. Towards the end of the season, they picked up the pace big time with nine straight 70-plus-possession contests.
Confidence is also key as a lot of players on this team are getting their first NCAA Tournament experience. UNC has six freshmen and just two seniors who get playing time in their rotation, so getting off to a good start would be a big help.
I feel like this is one of the toughest matchups to figure out because the two teams have struggled at times with consistency. North Carolina at their best could be a Sweet 16 team, but if they aren't getting rebounds, they can lose in the first round. Wisconsin hasn't exactly shown much down the stretch to inspire confidence either, though. Vegas has this line set at UNC -2, and I think that seems about right. In the end, I just don't know if the Badgers all of a sudden figure things out and win a game like this. The Heels are in better form, and they'll show it on the court Friday.
Prediction: North Carolina 70, Wisconsin 64
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.