MADISON - Minuets after Wisconsin had secured its second consecutive Sweet 16 appearance, one of the game’s heroes – junior Sam Dekker – said something that likely made the older generation of Wisconsin fans cringe when talking about the upcoming matchup with fourth-seed North Carolina.
“They were my favorite team growing up,” said Dekker.
While Thursday night’s meeting between top-seed Badgers (33-3) and fourth-seed Tar Heels (26-11) will be only third meeting in the last 10 years, the results on and off the court have made the Tar Heels’ one of the more disliked programs in state of Wisconsin.
BadgerNation looks at some of the reasons that North Carolina – and especially head coach Roy Williams – aren’t well received.
Williams vs. Wisconsin - Round 1
He had never coached against Wisconsin when he coached Kansas in the 2002 NCAA regional at the Kohl Center, but that didn’t stop the Madison-based crowd from vigorously booing him during pregame introductions and at times throughout game.
When Kansas won its 2000-01 opener over UCLA, 99-98, in New York City, Williams told a throng of national reporters: “Are you going to tell me you don't like this more than 19-17 at halftime? I'm not a nuclear physicist, but you make the choice. We're trying to make it a game of basketball skills, not a weight-room contest.”
The 19-17 comment was a direct reference to the halftime score of Wisconsin’s 2000 national semifinal game against eventual NCAA champion Michigan State. Apparently Williams believed the score, the third-lowest scoring first half in Final Four history, was a sign the game was getting too physical. Williams, then the chairman of the NCAA rules committee, followed up the comment by campaigned for tighter officiating to open up the game.
Williams tried to explain his comments again in 2002 at the Kohl Center, saying they were taken ‘out of context’ and that "my comments were not just that game (specifically), but college basketball had gotten so rough that you couldn't cut, couldn't score. So I used the score of that game (as an example).”
Williams reportedly sent then-head coach Dick Bennett, who was understandably irked, a note explaining his comments that smoothed things over, but that didn’t stop the players from remaining bitter.
“To single out our style, as if this was going to be a major epidemic in college basketball, it seemed like a low blow,” former UW player Mike Kelley told the Wisconsin State Journal in 2005. "It seemed like sour grapes.”
Wisconsin v. North Carolina - Part 1
The first meeting between the two schools on March 27, 2005 in the Elite Eight was a classic, but the Badgers ultimately couldn’t get past a Tar Heels team loaded with talent that netted Williams his first NCAA championship the following weekend.
Sean May had game highs with 29 points and 12 rebounds as Carolina defeated Wisconsin, 88-82, in the finals of the NCAA Tournament Syracuse Regional, at the time denying Ryan his first Division 1 Final Four appearance in his first Division 1 Elite Eight.
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.
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.
North Carolina’s Rashad McCants scored 21 points, which is significant since McCants told ESPN a year ago that the school placed him in no-show classes to keep him eligible a year after he failed two of his four classes. In the spring semester in which he helped North Carolina beat Wisconsin, McCants finished with straight A’s in four classes, according to the Sporting News.
Williams has claimed he knew nothing of it, which the NCAA showed in the recent Syracuse/Jim Boeheim scandal isn’t a good enough excuse to avoid postseason suspensions and stripped victories, including one over the Badgers in the 2012 Sweet 16.
Tokoto spurs Wisconsin
While the state had produced its fair share of blue chip prospects over the years, there was rarely a year when the state of Wisconsin had two players with the pedigree and talent that Sam Dekker and J.P. Tokoto did in the 2011 recruiting class.
Both good friends and AAU teammates, Dekker’s early commitment was thought to be a big advantage for Wisconsin in also getting Tokoto. Instead the former Menomonee Falls standout announced his decision late on a February weekday – ironically after a Wisconsin road game at Indiana - at a Dave and Buster’s restaurant in suburban Milwaukee, saying he was swayed by the Tar Heels after he visited Chapel Hill for the first time on Memorial Day weekend 2009.
“When I got down there, it was just a shock,” Tokoto said. “When I got down I just had a feeling that it was going to be my home.”
Tokoto narrowed his list to Connecticut, Kansas, Kentucky, Marquette, Maryland, North Carolina, UCLA and Wisconsin on February 14. Wisconsin aggressively recruited Tokoto from early on in his high school career, as Ryan offered him a scholarship during an open gym session in 2008 when Tokoto was a high school freshman and traveled to watch him play in high school and AAU games all over the country.
In the year before his announcement, Tokoto had made unofficial visits to two football games, including UW’s victory over No.1 Ohio State, and three basketball games, including victories over No.5 Duke and this season over No.1 Ohio State.
In the end Tokoto chose to play with another good friend in point guard Marcus Paige, irritating the UW coaching staff in the process since Tokoto reportedly never called them to tell them of his decision.
Tokoto is averaging 8.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists this season.
Williams v. Richter
Williams hasn’t been back to the Kohl Center since winning the 2002 regional, a fact that has frustrated former Wisconsin athletic director Pat Richter. Considering he was responsible for hiring Barry Alvarez to coach the football program and Bo Ryan to lead the basketball team, Richter had a big hand in building Wisconsin’s athletic program into a nationally respected brand it is and has felt frustrated that North Carolina hasn’t been scheduled to play at Wisconsin in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge.
“There are times we should have had them at our place, and it never happened,” Richter said in 2011. “And I think Roy Williams squeals. He's never really had to pay his dues, so to speak, like a Bo Ryan and Dick Bennett.”
Richter, who retired in 2004, also took issue that Wisconsin wasn’t finally scheduled to play North Carolina until the Tar Heels had a team that was a consensus number one preseason selection while Wisconsin had the task of replacing 46 percent of its minutes from the year before.
“It still is a joke," Richter said. “I know darn well that you'll never get Roy Williams here. He won't come to Wisconsin; he's afraid the people are going to boo him and everything else. I think that's all bogus.”
“They should have been at our place a long time ago and it never happened” he added. “And here we go again — we've got to go down there when they're supposed to have all these horses back, and it's going to be a tough road for us. Who's going to benefit but Roy Williams?"
Wisconsin v. North Carolina Part 2
The ninth-ranked Badgers gave North Carolina – which was ranked No.1 in the country the week before – gave Wisconsin a real game in the Dean Dome until the Tar Heels broke a game-long shooting slump with a decisive 18-5 run to a hard-fought 60-57 victory in front of 21,750 in November 2011.
All-American Harrison Barnes, who was a game-time decision after tweaking his right ankle in the previous game, scored 10 of his game-high 20 points on the second-half run to break Wisconsin’s spirit, considering the Badgers had controlled the pace, shut down the Tar Heels’ perimeter game, limited fast-break opportunities and even outmuscled the fifth-ranked team in the country in their baby blue backyard.
But the Tar Heels took advantage of 21 UW fouls by going 16-18 from the free throw line in the second half.
“I think that they won (the momentum battle) early in the game, but towards the second half we started pressing a little bit more,” said Barnes, whose team scored eight points from the free-throw line on the run. “That kind of sped the pace up which was more our style.”
Wisconsin was cold from the start and never truly heated up, finishing 8 of 28 from three-point range (28.6 percent), 35.9 percent overall (23 of 64) and made just 3 of 6 free-throw attempts. Senior guard Jordan Taylor scored 18 points to lead UW, but missed 14 of 20 field-goal attempts, including 8 of his 11 from three-point range and 3 of 6 from the free throw line, the only UW player to attempt a free throw.
“It would be nice (to shoot more free throws) but it’s hard because they don’t have to leave their feet to block a lot of shots or to clog up the lane with their length,” said UW coach Bo Ryan. “You definitely want to shoot more if you can, but we’re playing from behind and they really didn’t have to follow us.”
Finally a Win
It isn’t all doom and gloom against North Carolina for Wisconsin, far from it considering the recruiting battle the Badgers won over Williams for Bronson Koenig has provided huge dividends. Like many in-state prospects the Badgers are highly interested in, Ryan offered early, giving Koenig an offer the summer after his freshman year.
Playing on the same AAU team as Dekker and Tokoto, Koenig decided to let the recruiting process play off, which netted him offers from Duke, Marquette, Virginia and a host of others. The offer from North Carolina really spoke to him, but the opportunity to play close to home and with Dekker was a huge factor.
“There were a lot of factors that went into it, especially playing with Sam my whole AAU season,” Koenig said after committing. “Sam kept talking to me about staying close to home and playing with him. We are really close and just visiting with him, it just feels right. I like being close to home and I love Madison.”
Koenig estimated that at least one coach from Wisconsin was at every one of his games with the Wisconsin Playground Warriors throughout his freshman and sophomore year.
“It definitely influenced my decision,” Koenig said. “They were my first big offer and they didn’t miss an AAU game of mine in two years while they were recruiting me. That definitely says a lot, and showed how much they wanted me.”
It’s fair to say the Badgers wouldn’t be having the success they’ve had this season without Koenig, who has started the last 19 games at point guard for injured senior guard Traevon Jackson. UW has gone 18-1 during that stretch with Koenig – who is averaging 12 points per game over that stretch - committed just 23 turnovers in 686 minutes as a starting point guard.