That's one of the main reasons when No.9 Wisconsin faces off with No.5 North Carolina tonight at the Dean Dome why Close, whose first year on staff was that 2005 season, labeled this Tar Heels team one of the best teams UW has ever faced in any venue.
"I think you appreciate the talent that they have and some of the things they do from a schematic standpoint," Close said. "This is one of the deepest, more athletic teams we have faced. They are still young in some ways, although all five of those guys started last year. In terms of athleticism, length and skills, it's a very impressive group."
There's no question Wisconsin (6-0) hasn't faced the speed, talent and size that North Carolina (5-1), which was top ranked throughout the entire season until losing Saturday, possesses. Few teams have, especially when it's not inaccurate to call them an NBA frontcourt.
All bypassing the NBA draft to return this season, Carolina's starting frontcourt is averaging 46.7 points per game — Harrison Barnes (17.3 ppg), John Henson (15.8) and Tyler Zeller (13.5). All three are on the Naismith and Wooden Watch List and their length has allowed them to get points the easy way.
Already having attempted 168 free throws, an average of 28 per game, 7-foot center Zeller, 6-11 forward Henson and the 6-8 Barnes - has accounted for 96 of those attempts and the UW coaching staff expects the ball to be the post on almost every play. After all, it's hard to stop long and athletic once they are entrenched in the paint.
"The level of athletes they have is a unique combination that Big Ten teams struggle to really replicate," junior forward Jared Berggren said. "We've faced teams that have pounded it into post in the past, so it won't be foreign to us. We'll have to stick to our rules in order to neutralize that, try to keep it out of the post and limit the touches."
Added Close: "If they do get the ball in the post, we need to make it as tough of shot as possible and don't give them another one. It's a very daunting task. They can draw fouls with the best of them."
North Carolina also is the best team at pushing the tempo than any other opponent on UW's schedule. Averaging 88 points per game (fifth best in the country) and 20.8 assists per game (third in the country), the Tar Heels scored over 100 points in back-to-back games this season. Wisconsin hasn't scored 100 points since December 1995, meaning the Badgers and their nation's best defense (39.2 ppg) won't want to get in a track meet.
"They like to speed it up and we like to play a little of both," said sophomore guard Josh Gasser. "The more we can play our own style than theirs is beneficial to us. That just comes from us running a good offense, getting good shots, hopefully knocking them down and doing our things on defense."
Close said Wisconsin would have to play very well in order to beat North Carolina and even then, ‘we might not beat them because of how good they are.' It might help if Barnes isn't in the lineup.
Injured in the first half during the Tar Heels' loss to UNLV, Barnes ended up playing for 30 minutes and scored 15 points, but Coach Roy Williams said on Monday that Barnes wouldn't have played if UNC had a game that night. He said Tuesday he's expected to play barring any setbacks.
Wisconsin was one of the first schools to start recruiting Barnes out of Ames, IA, and infinity for the All-American is still there. Ryan called Barnes, ‘a player, a great person and just an all-American guy that can play' while Close, who was one of the lead recruiters, echoed his boss.
"Phenomenal kid," Close said. "His mom, Shirley, did a great job in raising him. He was an outstanding student, an outstanding citizen and outstanding player. He wasn't a great player when he was younger, but had a fierce determination to be great. He's a player that any program would love to have."
After winning the Chicago Invitational Challenge, Ryan fielded a call from one of his East Coast buddies to kid the coach that UNC's frontcourt would be in the pros if it wasn't for the NBA lockout. Ryan didn't buy it. He knows North Carolina would have players whether those guys went in the draft or not and he knows what it's going to take to beat them: a total, near-flawless team effort.
"Carolina is still Carolina," Ryan said. "They are still the same players, and we've got them in the Dean Dome. So North Carolina isn't any different than when they went out to Vegas. Probably a little ornerier maybe now, but they were going to play hard against us no matter whether that game was on the left-hand side or the right-hand side.
"You definitely want to be in a five-on-five game with them. If you're in a open area of three-on-three, Carolina wins three-on-three. Carolina beat anybody in the country three-on-three, four-on-four. Five-on-five is your best chance."
No.9 Wisconsin (6-0, 0-0 Big Ten) vs. No.5 North Carolina (5-1, 0-0 ACC)
Date/Time - Wednesday, November 30, 8:30 p.m. Central
Arena – Dean E. Smith Center (21,750)
Television - ESPN (Brent Musberger, Jay Bilas, Doras Burke)
Radio - Wisconsin Radio Network (Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas)
Series – North Carolina leads 1-0 (0-0 in Chapel Hill)
Last Meeting – North Carolina won, 88-82, on March 27, 2005 in Syracuse, N.Y.
Wisconsin Probable Starters
5 Ryan Evans (Junior Forward, 9.5 ppg)
11 Jordan Taylor (Senior Guard, 11.0 ppg)
21 Josh Gasser (Sophomore Guard, 10.2 ppg)
31 Mike Bruesewitz (Junior Forward, 7.7 ppg)
40 Jared Berggren (Junior Forward, 12.3 ppg)
Off the Bench
1 Ben Brust (Sophomore Guard, 12.8 ppg)
12 Traevon Jackson (Freshman Guard, 1.0 ppg)
33 Rob Wilson (Senior Guard, 3.2 ppg)
44 Frank Kaminsky (Freshman Forward, 3.7 ppg)
North Carolina Probable Starters
1 Dexter Strickland (Junior Guard, 8.3 ppg)
5 Kendall Marshall (Sophomore Guard, 4.8 ppg)
31 John Henson (Junior Forward, 15.8 ppg)
40 Harrison Barnes (Sophomore Forward, 17.3 ppg)
44 Tyler Zeller (Senior Forward, 13.5 ppg)
Off the Bench
15 P.J. Hairston (Freshman Guard, 9.7 ppg)
35 Reggie Bullock (Sophomore Guard, 7.8 ppg)
43 James McAdoo (Freshman Forward, 6.5 ppg)
Last Time Out
Brust made sure the Badgers weren't in the same boat this time, scoring a game-high 21 points as No. 11 Wisconsin improved to 6-0 for the first time since 1996-97.
"Teammates found me and I just knocked them down," said Brust, who hit 7 of 10 from beyond the arc, including five in the second half. "When you're open you've got to shoot it."
Tournament MVP Jordan Taylor added 18 points, while Mike Bruesewitz and Jared Berggren had 13 points apiece for Wisconsin. Forward Noah Hartsock paced the Cougars (4-2) with 18 points.
The teams were tied at 42 when Brust hit the first of his trio of 3-pointers during an 11-0 run that gave the Badgers a 53-42 lead with 8:47 to play.
Wisconsin made its first six shots -- including five 3-pointers from four different players -- on the way to an early 22-10 lead. Taylor had two 3s in the hot start.
The Badgers shot 51 percent (27 for 53) from the field, including 13 for 24 from 3-point range. BYU shot 43 percent (22 for 51) and went 1 for 10 from long range. Until Saturday, no opponent had scored more than 50 points on Wisconsin.
Sean May had game highs with 29 points and 12 rebounds as Carolina defeated Wisconsin 88-82 on March 27, 2005, in the finals of the NCAA Tournament Syracuse Regional to advance to the Final Four. Carolina went on to win Roy Williams' first NCAA championship the following weekend.
Raymond Felton scored 17 points and also had seven assists and five rebounds despite spraining his left ankle in the second half. Felton entered the game shooting just 2 for 6 at the free throw line in three previous NCAA Tournament games in 2005 but drained all six of his free throw attempts in the final 51.3 seconds to ice the victory.
UNC made 11 of 12 free throws in the final 2:40 of the game to ice the win. The Tar Heels equaled a season-low with nine turnovers as a team.
Carolina hit 10 of its first 11 shots of the contest and 12 of its first 14. The game was tied at halftime, however, as the Badgers closed the first half on an 11-0 run. The Tar Heels were scoreless in the final 2:59 of the opening period, missing their last five shots.
Wisconsin hit 7 of 15 three-pointers in the first half but just four after the break. Alando Tucker led the Badgers with 25 points, while Kammron Taylor had 18 and Clayton Hanson 15 on 5 of 8 three-pointers.
Wisconsin owns a 20-11 record overall vs. teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
This marks the 8th time UW will enter the Big Ten-ACC Challenge as a ranked team. It is the 5th time the Badgers have played a ranked ACC team in the Challenge.
Wisconsin (No. 9) will enjoy its highest ranking for a Challenge game. UNC (No. 5) will also be the highest-ranked foe UW has faced in the Challenge.
Wisconsin handed Duke its only loss in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge with a 73-69 win at the Kohl Center in 2009.
Wisconsin's 39-point win over NC State in the 2010 Big Ten-ACC Challenge ranks as the most lopsided win by a Big Ten team in Challenge history.
North Carolina Notes:
Carolina is 6-6 overall in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge with all six wins coming in the last eight years. Wednesday's game will be the first meeting between UNC and Wisconsin in the event. Carolina has won six of its eight games in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge since Roy Williams became the head coach in Chapel Hill, including four in a row prior to last season's loss at Illinois.
This week marks just the 16th time in Carolina basketball history the Tar Heels have played back-to-back regular season games against top-10 opponents, and just the sixth instance of back-to-back regular season games against top-10, non-conference opponents. All-time, Carolina is 16-13 in these back-to-back games (the odd count is because of a series of three games in 1968) and has only been swept once (in 2002). The most recent occurrence was in Dec. 2009, a split against Mich. State and Kentucky.
If you include games earlier this season versus Michigan State and at UNC Asheville, Carolina will have played five 2011 NCAA Tournament teams in the first eight games of 2011-12.
P.J. Hairston (14 for 29) and Reggie Bullock (10 for 22) have combined to shoot 24 for 51 from three-point range this season (47.1 percent combined). The rest of the UNC team has combined to hit 10 three-pointers through six games in 2011-12.
If you haven't read Brett Valentyn's breakdown
of tonight's game, it's a must read. It's long, detailed and definitely worth a glance for any UW fan.
So, was it good or bad that UNC lost its first game? I always tend to fall on the side of no. After all, Wisconsin has beaten an undefeated Purdue and Ohio State in recent years by finding weaknesses, attacking the rim and hitting shots. They'll need to do that and then some to win at North Carolina.
In its 90-80 loss to UNLV, North Carolina's defense – called porous by one of its beat writers - failed to stop Rebel shooters who finished 13-for-32 from behind the arc. Throw in the fact UNC made just 11 of 36 shots in the second half and were outscored 20-6 on second-chance points, it was a recipe for disaster.
Wisconsin is going to need a similar effort and some help to earn this victory. UW's defensive intensity is very good and UW will need to stick to that and not get rattled in what will be a challenging environment. While I think UW may have a slight edge in the guard department, UW's post players – still inexperienced – will be tested like it's never been tested before. Berggren will need to move his feet, Bruesewitz is going to have to hold his ground and Evans will need to find another gear.
I don't think this game will be like Duke in 2007 but when Close said UW could play perfect and still potential not win, there's a red flag. I think this game is going to push UW to have a great season down the road, but this test will be tough for Wisconsin. At home I pick Wisconsin but on the road, I say UNC by 16.
Worgull's Record: 6-0
Points off Prediction: 62 (10.3 per game)