Challenge within the Challenge

The match-up is No.9 Wisconsin and No.5 North Carolina in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, but the 'challenge within the challenge,' according to coach Bo Ryan, will be Wisconsin senior point guard Jordan Taylor matching wits with North Carolina sophomore point guard Kendall Marshall.

MADISON - When it comes to basketball, few things in the world of Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan bother him outside of the 94-by-50 foot court he considers his teaching platform. He doesn't pay attention to rankings, schedules, individual postseason team awards and doesn't speak for other programs.

Maybe that's why it was out of the norm for Ryan to talk about one of the premier match-ups in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. It's not just between teams; it's a duel between two All-American-type point guards in Wisconsin senior Jordan Taylor and North Carolina sophomore Kendall Marshall.

"Those two guys, they understand the game, they understand what the team needs and they bring that every night when they go on the floor," Ryan said. "Some nights are better than others but in college basketball, I think that's pretty exciting, having attempted the position as a player and having coached some guys who I thought were pretty good point guards."

Great players often elevate themselves against great completion, which is what many expect to see when No.9 Wisconsin travels to Chapel Hill for the first time to take on No.5 North Carolina Wednesday at the Smith Center.

Taylor is on pace to be the most efficient point guard in NCAA history, owning a 3.35 career assist-to-turnover ratio (352 assists and 105 turnovers) that is well ahead of the 2.70 UTEP's Julyan Stone had from 2008-11, and has shown a knack for taking over the games with his scoring (see last season vs. No.1 Ohio State and at Indiana as a reference point).

Marshall is only North Carolina's eighth-leading scorer, but his 10.8 assists per game have allowed three players to average over 13 points per contest. The Virginia-native has set school records for assists in consecutive games (29), four consecutive games (52) and five consecutive games (57), and has nine double-digit assist games in his last 22 contests.

Their roles within their respective offenses are different, but the responsibilities are the same in terms of leadership, distributing and making sure the show runs smoothly.

"The biggest thing that jumps out that they are the perfect piece to the puzzle that they are in," associate coach Greg Gard said. "Jordan is the piece we need with our point guard position and Marshall fills a big need with the guys around him."

When Taylor watches film of his counterpart, he sees a point guard that can see the floor exceptionally well, allowing him to spread the ball around to a lot of talented players and keeping everybody involved. It's a description that seems to loosely match what Taylor has done through the team's first six games.

Although he earned MVP honors at the Chicago Invitational Challenge, averaging 16.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 7.0 assists in the two wins at Hoffman Estates, Taylor has primarily played the role of facilitator through the nonconference season, leading the Big Ten with a 5.0 assist-to-turnover ratio (35 assists, 7 turnovers) that has allowed the inexperience players to get involved and gain needed confidence.

"Each decision within the game is individually based," Gard said. "Teams might play Jordan a little differently this year. They may send another man to him, play him with ball screens and different things, but he's able to read those and make good decisions to find other people that are open. The other guys have benefited of how he has played and the decisions he has made.

"When your best player is that unselfish and is willing to find people and make plays for others, that spreads, and that's one of the good characteristics of this team."

Taylor doesn't see the in-depth comparison with Marshall and doesn't subscribe to the notion that this game's team defense is any more important Wednesday than any other game. What he does acknowledge is that the Badgers will have to play their game and style in order to be successful if Wisconsin wants to win its first road game against a top 10 opponent since 2007.

As always, Taylor will have a big say in whether that happens or not.

"We're just trying to go in there and do what we do best and stick to our game plan to win," Taylor said. "We really don't change a ton."

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