In the championship game in the Maui Invitational, the #4 North Carolina Tar Heels will take on the #16 Wisconsin Badgers at 9:30pm ET tonight. Following their 107-75 shellacking of the Oklahoma State Cowboys last night, UNC will have a tough match up against a ranked opponent this evening.
Last night, the Tar Heels played a solid game against Oklahoma State. The Cowboys did not have much offensive support outside of preseason All-Big 12 guard Jawun Evans. The UNC lead hit double digits at the 15:45 mark of the first half after a Kenny Williams III three-pointer, and Carolina never really looked back from there. The Tar Heels had six players in double figures, including 22 points from Justin Jackson and a career-high 24 points from Joel Berry II.
Tonight, Carolina will move into the tougher portion of their nonconference schedule. Three of their next six games will be against ranked opponents, and there are some areas that the Heels need to clean up, starting tonight against Wisconsin. UNC had 16 turnovers against Oklahoma State, including nine in the first half. As mentioned in the preseason, turnovers last season were the lowest of the Roy Williams era. With Berry running the offense, and new starters Williams and Isaiah Hicks getting more accustomed to their roles, this year’s turnover number should go down as UNC progresses this season.
The game against the Badgers will test the UNC offense. Wisconsin is allowing just 59.8 points-per-game so far this season. There are two key elements to success tonight. First, how many second chance points will the Tar Heels score? Currently, UNC is fifth in the nation in offensive rebounding, averaging 18 per game. Led by Kennedy Meeks, the Tar Heels are grabbing a lot of missed shots. With a tougher Wisconsin defense tonight, you have to think that Carolina may struggle to get to their team 51.2 field goal percentage average. Putting away some offense rebounds or getting to the free throw line will be important to victory. Second, will the scoring remain balanced? The Tar Heels have five players averaging over 10 points-per-game so far this season. Two of those players not included in that statistic, Nate Britt and Kenny Williams III, had 12 and 9 points, respectfully, last night against Oklahoma State. With at least seven players that can make significant offensive contributions, and a few more on the bench that can provide valuable minutes, a balanced and long bench can help tremendously against a talented opponent.
Bronson Koening (you may remember him) is the senior leader of this Badgers team. Their lone loss this season came against the Creighton Bluejays. That game was back-and-forth until late in the second half when Wisconsin went cold and Creighton never relinquished the lead. Although the Badgers outrebounded their opponent, including a 16-6 advantage on offensive rebounds, turnovers proved to be costly. Wisconsin committed 16 turnovers, while Creighton only gave up seven.
With Carolina’s fast break mentality and propensity for hitting the deck over loose balls, turnovers by Wisconsin tonight could prove deadly for the Badgers. Whereas UNC may be able to compensate for turnovers through their offense, the Badgers may be able to do so through their defense. In their loss against Creighton, the Bluejays shot 50 percent from the floor and 50 percent from three-point range. Wisconsin will need to improve upon these numbers if they are to limit UNC’s scoring.
UNC will win if they
- Win the turnover battle
- Have a versatile and balanced offensive attack
- Limit the scoring from Wisconsin’s seniors Koening and Hayes
Wisconsin will win if they
- Keep Carolina from playing inside-out on offense
- Stop the UNC offense from making runs
- Create first half foul trouble for the Heels