With the North Carolina Tar Heels playing some of the best basketball of their season, a tough test looms tomorrow in the First Round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament. Despite Wisconsin stumbling down the stretch losing four of their last five, this team is experienced and talented.
The oddsmakers predict a close game, as UNC is favored by just a point and a half. Up and down the stats sheet, the team statistics prove that point. As Carolina looks to keep Roy Williams’s perfect NCAA First Round record unblemished, here are a few things to keep an eye on tomorrow evening.
Will Wisconsin Change their Rotation?
One of the main storylines of this game is Carolina’s size advantage and ability to rebound the basketball. As long as UNC is in the NCAA Tournament, this will likely be a talking point. The question for tomorrow’s game: Will Wisconsin adjust their rotation and lineup to account for UNC’s size advantage?
Badgers head coach Greg Gard mentioned this during his presser on Tuesday, noting that they could play a traditional two post lineup rather than their usual one big-stretch four set. Wisconsin usually swaps out Nate Reuvers and Micah Potter at the five, but tomorrow’s game could have both on the floor at the same time.
Even with their usually lineup and rotations, Wisconsin is not a small team. Will this new look help combat the size of the Tar Heels, or will this adjustment have unintended consequences when executing their offense?
Tar Heel fans have seen the results when the offense is working through the low post, and the bigs are grabbing offensive rebounds in high scoring areas. When that UNC team is on the court, the hype about the size and rebounding advantage is of true concern for any opponent.
If Wisconsin can find a way to mitigate that advantage, or they are able to disrupt any part of the Carolina high-low attack, the Badgers will have a good shot at victory.
Experience vs. Youth
Wisconsin has four senior starters, and two of their three off the bench are seniors. Carolina has at least two freshman starters each game, with five total rookies earning significant minutes each game.
How much will experience come into play tomorrow night? For the Badgers, their group of seniors are a mixed bunch with both four-year lettermen and transfers.
Since the 2017-18 season, Wisconsin basketball has faced a variety of circumstances, including the end of a nearly two decade long NCAA Tournament appearance streak, being on the wrong side of a 5/12 NCAA Tournament upset, and a share of a Big Ten regular season championship.
Thin on postseason credentials, but heavy on playing in a tough and talented Big Ten conference, this Wisconsin team may have the advantage in a tight game after the under four tv timeout.
Yet, the Tar Heels have the experience on the bench that can direct them to victory. It will be a matter of execution for this young UNC squad.
There were points during this season when the defensive intensity of the Tar Heels was a difference maker in the game. When Carolina stormed back in the second half against Florida State, both at home and during the ACC Tournament, the effort on defense was on a different level.
That effort bled over to the offense. The pace quickened, and the Tar Heels showed flashes of the offensive tempo that Roy Williams expects out of his teams.
The bench has not gotten even shorter for Williams in February and March. UNC is still playing 10, with varying minutes for some depending on matchups and circumstance.
Wisconsin has a short bench, with just three players in the rotation. Two of those three are getting significant minutes. Can a high-intensity defensive effort wear down the Badgers? What if UNC throws in their traditional up-tempo offense?
If recent games can provide any insight, mid way through the second half could be the time that ramping up the defensive pressure decides the final outcome of the game.