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North Carolina vs. Wisconsin Preview (NCAA Tournament 1st Round)

North Carolina and Wisconsin will meet for just the fifth time when they square off in the NCAA Tournament First Round. The Tar Heels hold a 3-1 advantage in the previous four games.

History of North Carolina vs. Wisconsin

Historically, North Carolina and Wisconsin have met four times with the Tar Heels winning three of the games.

Interestingly, both teams have been ranked in each of the previous matchups. Tonight, when the Tar Heels and Badgers meet in Mackey Arena (Purdue’s home court), for the first time neither team will be ranked.

Each of the five games between Carolina and Wisconsin have occurred in some type of tournament setting, and all five have been in the Roy Williams era.

Here are the results and settings of the previous four games:

  • UNC 71, Wisconsin 56 | November 23, 2016 | Maui Invitational Championship
  • Wisconsin 79, UNC 72 | March 26, 2015 | Sweet 16
  • UNC 60, Wisconsin 57 | November 30, 2011 | ACC/Big Ten Challenge
  • UNC 88, Wisconsin 82 | March 27, 2005 | Elite Eight

Tonight’s matchup will therefore be the third time the teams have met in the context of the NCAA Tournament.

Notice also that two of the previous three victories occurred in National Championship seasons for North Carolina (2004-05 and 2016-17).

Today’s Game

When you think about North Carolina, you think about tempo and scoring lots of points and offensive efficiency. When you think about Wisconsin, you think about tough defense.

The opposite is currently true, however. As of this writing, the Badgers rank higher than the Tar Heels in offensive efficiency (32 to 54). Carolina, on the other hand, ranks (ever-so-slightly) higher in defensive efficiency (12 to 13). Overall, Wisconsin is ranked higher in KenPom rankings at 11 while UNC is 27.

Wisconsin is 17-12 overall and finished sixth in the Big Ten at 10-10. In the Big Ten Tournament, after a first-round bye, the Badgers beat the 11-seed Penn State 75-74 before falling to third-seeded Iowa 62-57 in the quarterfinals.

Wisconsin has lost four of their last five, six of their last eight, and seven of their last 10. It sounds like they must not be playing very well, right? 

Not so fast.

This is a moment to remember that a team's record isn't always the best indicator of how good they are. We have to take a closer look at who the losses come against. 

Here are those seven losses:

  • Illinois - 1 seed
  • Michigan - 1 seed
  • Iowa - 2 seed
  • Illinois - 1 seed
  • Purdue - 4 seed
  • Iowa - 2 seed
  • Iowa - 2 seed

Those seven losses are to three number one seeds, three number two seeds, and one number four seed. All seven are to teams with four seeds or better. So here's the reminder:

Not all losses are created equal.

The Badgers’ starters in recent games are Tyler Wahl, Nate Reuvers, Aleem Ford, Brad Davison, and D’Mitrik Trice. Head coach Greg Gard’s bench consistently goes three deep this year, with Micah Potter and Jonathan Davis both averaging starter’s minutes while Trevor Anderson plays 15 minutes a game as the eighth man on the depth chart.

To be fair, Micah Potter has started the majority of Wisconsin's games.

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Trice is the leading scorer at 13.8 points per game. Potter, despite coming off the bench recently, is the second leading scorer at 12.9. No other Badgers average double-digits in scoring.

Perhaps the biggest discrepancy between North Carolina and Wisconsin is on the glass. Potter is the Badger’s leading rebounder at 6.0 rebounds per game. The Tar Heels have three Tar Heels who each average more than Potter – Armando Bacot (8.0), Day’Ron Sharpe (7.7), and Garrison Brooks (6.8).

As a team, North Carolina averages nearly 10 rebounds per game more than Wisconsin: 43.18 to 33.55. The Tar Heels rank third in the nation in this category while the Badgers are 256th.

As for other rebounding numbers, Carolina is first in the nation with 15.89 offensive rebounds per game. Wisconsin is 275th at 8.28. Carolina also leads the nation in rebound margin at +10. The Badgers are 240th at -1 in the same category. The gap narrows a bit on the defensive glass. Carolina is 53rd with 27.29 defensive boards per game, while Wisconsin sits at 185th with 25.28 defensive boards per game.

All this to say, the Tar Heels should have a big advantage rebounding.

Wisconsin, though, has done a much better job taking care of the ball than has UNC. The Badgers turn the ball over just nine times a game. The Tar Heels cough the ball up just shy of 15 times per game at 14.8.

As you look at the lineups below, the Carolina strategy should become clear. The Tar Heels will look to pound the ball into the post early and often. The Badgers are thin in their frontcourt and UNC should be able to take advantage through scoring, rebounding, and getting Wisconsin in foul trouble.

But while the Tar Heels will have the advantage inside, Wisconsin has a veteran team, marked by two senior starters in the backcourt going up against Carolina’s two freshmen in the backcourt.

Wisconsin starters

  • D’Mitrik Trice | Guard | 6’0” | 184 lbs
  • Brad Davison | Guard | 6’4” | 202 lbs
  • Aleem Ford | Forward | 6’8” | 217 lbs
  • Tyler Wahl | Forward | 6’9” | 220 lbs
  • Nate Reuvers | Forward | 6’11” | 235 lbs

Wisconsin reserves

  • Micah Potter | Forward | 6’10” | 248 lbs
  • Jordan Davis | Guard | 6’4” | 202 lbs
  • Trevor Anderson | Guard | 6’3” | 195 lbs

North Carolina starters 

  • Caleb Love | Guard | 6’4” | 195 lbs
  • Kerwin Walton | Guard | 6’5” | 205 lbs
  • Leaky Black | Guard/Forward | 6’8” | 195 lbs
  • Garrison Brooks | Forward | 6’10” | 240 lbs
  • Armando Bacot | Forward/Center | 6’10” | 240 lbs

North Carolina reserves

  • Anthony Harris | Guard | 6’4” | 196 lbs
  • Andrew Platek | Guard | 6’4” | 205 lbs
  • RJ Davis | Guard | 6’0” | 160 lbs
  • Day’Ron Sharpe | Forward/Center | 6’11” | 265 lbs
  • Walker Kessler | Forward/Center | 7’1” | 245 lbs

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