North Carolina (6-0) vs. Wisconsin (4-1)
Lahaina, Maui, Hawai’i – Lahaina Civic Center
Wednesday, 4.30 p.m. (9:30 p.m. EST)
ESPN2 (Dan Shulman, Jay Bilas)
“I think it's become the identity of this team. And there are times when it's not pretty. In fact, there's times when we will have to win ugly. And that may be one of the areas where we can really make up with other deficiencies or deficiencies in other areas.” – Wisconsin coach Greg Gard on rebounding
“I think right now we're playing really well, but we've got to continue this into tomorrow because we've got a really good team again.” – UNC wing Justin Jackson
“We had a lot of turnovers the first half, myself included, just some turnovers that can't happen in the future. But I thought we did a better job taking care of the ball in the second half, especially with the pressure they applied down the stretch. So, yeah, I thought we did a pretty good job the whole game.” – Wisconsin guard Bronson Koenig after his team’s win over Georgetown on Tuesday
Offensive Explosion: UNC’s depth is often emphasized, but it was on full display in Tuesday’s 107-75 win over Oklahoma State in the Maui Invitational semifinals. Six Tar Heels scored in the double digits, including 24 from Joel Berry and 22 points from Justin Jackson. Berry’s lights-out shooting from beyond the arc was the highlight – the junior point guard was 4-for-6 – and sophomore wing Kenny Williams, who dealt with well-documented confidence issues last season, drained three 3-pointers in the blowout. The Tar Heels’ scoring in the paint was effective enough as Tony Bradley, Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks combined for 36 total points in the paint. UNC has shot 50 percent or better in five consecutive halves.
Badgers Spotlight: In his first full official season in charge, head coach Greg Gard has the Badgers off to a hot start in 2016-17. Wisconsin is 4-1, with their only loss coming to No. 22 Creighton in a 79-67 defeat on the road. So far in Maui, the Badgers have been cruising. They took down a young Tennessee squad in the first round and then outclassed a struggling Georgetown team in the semifinals, 73-57. The Badgers have found massive success on the boards so far in the Maui Invitational, outrebounding their opponents, 86-46.
Superior Seniors: The Badgers squad is dependent on the play of seniors Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes. They both started in UNC’s meeting with Wisconsin in the 2015 Sweet 16, and were key leadership cogs in in the transition from Bo Ryan to Gard last season. So far this season, Koenig is averaging 17.6 points per game while shooting over 45 percent from the floor. While he is known as a prolific shooter, Koenig has yet to find his stroke from the 3-point line this season, shooting under 28 percent from beyond the arc. Hayes, on the other hand, contributes in almost every aspect of the game. The 6-foot-8 forward is averaging 12.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game and is shooting nearly 40 percent from the 3-point line. These two, combined with the rest of Wisconsin’s veteran rotation, have the Badgers offense firing on all cylinders in Maui.
Matchup to Watch: The story of this game will be told in the paint. Wisconsin presents the biggest and most physical starting five that the Tar Heels have faced this season. Hayes (6-foot-8), Vitto Brown (6-foot-8), and Ethan Happ (6-foot-10) have all used their physicality to batter their opponents down low, leading to their large rebounding differential in Maui. UNC bigs Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks will be able to hold their own on the boards, but Justin Jackson, who will likely guard Hayes or Brown, will be called upon to match his opponent. Wisconsin ranks fourth nationally in offensive rebounding percentage, according to kenpom.com, while UNC is marginally better in second. Additionally, more play in the paint may expose Hicks’ foul troubles from last year, which have been hidden so far this season against smaller lineups.
Last Meeting: Wisconsin defeated UNC in the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16, 79-72, on March 26, 2015. Brice Johnson and Justin Jackson led the Tar Heels in scoring with 15 points apiece, but Sam Dekker’s 23 points helped the Badgers advance to the Elite Eight.
Series History: UNC leads the all-time series, 2-1.
Projected UNC Starters:
2 Joel Berry (6-0, 195, Jr.) – 16.3 ppg, 4.5 apg
3 Kennedy Meeks (6-10, 260, Sr.) - 13.5 ppg, 9.8 rpg
4 Isaiah Hicks (6-9, 242, Sr.) - 14.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg
44 Justin Jackson (6-8, 210, Jr.) – 16.0 ppg, 4.5 rpg
24 Kenny Williams (6-4, 180, So.) - 6.5 ppg, 4.3 rpg
Projected Wisconsin Starters:
10 Nigel Hayes (6-8, 215, Sr.) – 11.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg
22 Ethan Happ (6-10, 232, So.) – 11.6 ppg, 9.4 rpg
30 Vitto Brown (6-8, 235, Sr.) - 6.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg
03 Zak Showalter (6-3, 185, Sr.) – 6.2 ppg, 3.0 rpg
24 Bronson Koenig (6-3, 190, Sr.) – 17.6 ppg, 3.2 rpg