Brian Spurlock/USA Today Sports

No.16 Wisconsin faces off against No.4 North Carolina in the Maui Invitational finals

For the first time in three trips to the Maui Invitational, No.16 Wisconsin will play for the tournament title, facing off against No.4 North Carolina tonight. BadgerNation breaks down the match-up.

No.16 Wisconsin (4-1, 0-0 Big Ten) vs. No.4 North Carolina (6-0, 0-0 ACC)

Date/Time – Wednesday, November 23, 9 p.m. central

Arena – Lahaina Civic Center (2,400)

Television – ESPN2 (Dan Shulman and Jay Bilas)

Radio –Badgers Radio Network (Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas)

Series – North Carolina leads 2-1 (Series tied 1-1 in neutral sites)

Last Meeting – Wisconsin won, 79-72, on March 25, 2015, in Los Angeles

WISCONSIN PROBABLE STARTERS

3 Zak Showalter (6-3 Senior Guard, 6.2 ppg)

10 Nigel Hayes (6-8 Senior Forward, 11.2 ppg)

22 Ethan Happ (6-10 Sophomore Forward, 11.6 ppg)

24 Bronson Koenig (6-2 Senior Guard, 17.6 ppg)

30 Vitto Brown (6-8 Senior Forward, 6.4 ppg)

OFF THE BENCH

0 D'Mitrik Trice (6-0 Freshman Guard, 4.2 ppg)

11 Jordan Hill (6-4 Junior Guard, 1.8 ppg)

15 Charles Thomas (6-8 Sophomore Forward, 3.2 ppg)

21 Khalil Iverson (6-5 Sophomore Forward, 5.4 ppg)

25 Alex Illikainen (6-9 Sophomore Forward, 3.2 ppg)

PLAYER TO WATCH

Although the play of Koenig and Happ were critical to Wisconsin’s semifinals win, Iverson was the spark off the bench, adding 10 points and matching his career high with seven rebounds.

NORTH CAROLINA PROBABLE STARTERS

2 Joel Berry II (6-0 Junior Guard, 16.3 ppg)

3 Kennedy Meeks (6-10 Senior Forward, 13.5 ppg)

4 Isaiah Hicks (6-9 Senior Forward, 14.7 ppg)

24 Kenny Williams (6-4 Sophomore Guard, 6.5 ppg)

44 Justin Jackson (6-8 Junior Forward, 16.0 ppg)

OFF THE BENCH

0 Nate Britt (6-1 Senior Guard, 7.3 ppg)

5 Tony Bradley (6-11 Freshman Forward, 11.5 ppg)

14 Brandon Robinson (6-5 Freshman Guard, 4.5 ppg)

PLAYER TO WATCH

Jackson was the model of efficiency in North Carolina’s semifinals win. He scored 22 points on 7 of 12 shooting, was a perfect 7-for-7 from the free throw line, tied the team-high with eight rebounds and had a perfect 6-to-0 assist-to-turnover ratio.

LAST TIME OUT

LAHAINA, Hawaii – A one-possession game at halftime turned ugly in the second half thanks to a balanced effort on both ends of the floor, resulting in No.16 Wisconsin running away with a 73-57 victory over Georgetown at the Lahaina Civic Center.

Bronson Koenig scored a game-high 20 points and sophomore center Ethan Happ delivered a monster double-double (19 points, 15 rebounds) for Wisconsin (4-1), who advanced to their first finals in three trips to the Maui Invitational.

“I thought we played a little bit more or sounder basketball,” head coach Greg Gard said. “Not as good as we'll need to be in terms of the turnover ratio. But a step in the right direction obviously against a very good team.”

Although the first 20 minutes were more of the same (build a lead, play sloppy, let it slip), Wisconsin’s work in the low post gave that Badgers their breathing room.

Going against the Hoyas (2-3) with some interior size, Wisconsin had a 50-21 edge in rebounding, 38-16 advantage in points in the paint, 20-1 on the offensive glass and 19-1 in second-chance points. It was the worst rebounding margin for the Hoyas in over 20 yards.

Wisconsin shot 42.9 percent in the first half but led by only three at the break in part because it committed eight turnovers. Things got straightened out in a hurry after halftime.

Having seven points and 11 rebounds in the first half, Happ scored the first six points of the second half, the middle two being a coast-to-coast steal and transition dunk. After starting the season with three straight games scoring eight or less, Happ has averaged 17.5 points and 10.5 rebounds in the last two games.

Sophomore Khalil Iverson wowed people with a couple monster slams on his way to 10 points, but he also had seven rebounds off the bench and played a role in keeping senior guard Rodney Pryor (team-best 19.8 points per game) to 14 points on 4 of 10 shooting.

Vitto Brown did the perimeter work, scoring his nine points on three second-half 3-pointers. The first two came after Georgetown cut the lead to single digits and the last one gave UW a 67-49 lead with 4:17 remaining. He added three assists, two rebounds and no turnovers.

SERIES NOTES

Three of Wisconsin’s four meetings with North Carolina have come on a neutral court, including two in the N.C.A.A. tournament.

Wisconsin is 41-41 against teams currently in the A.C.C. The Badgers are 4-4 against the conference in the last four seasons.

The Tar Heels are 33-5 in the state of Hawaii – 18-2 in Honolulu and 15-3 in Lahaina.

LAST MEETING

LOS ANGELES - Survive and advance is the name of the game. The history of the N.C.A.A. tournament is littered with perceived great teams who didn’t win a national championship, let alone make a Final Four.

 “Good teams know how to win,” said junior Sam Dekker, whose big night on the national stage gave top-seed Wisconsin a 79-72 victory over fourth-seed North Carolina at the Staples Center in a West Regional semifinal. “That’s the thing. There’s a lot of teams that are talented, just as talented as us, but they don’t know how to win at times.

“Coach (Ryan) says a winning mindset brings a winning attitude wherever it is. That rubs off and you know you are going to win no matter the score.”

On a night where his teammates had to fight for their offense, Dekker carried the burden. His 23 points (10-for-15) were a career high and his 10 rebounds represented his first double-double of the season.

Frank Kaminsky finished with 19 points and 8 rebounds, Nigel Hayes added 12 points and Traevon Jackson scored four points in his return to the lineup.

With a lot of his players’ bloodied and bruised, Wisconsin associate head coach Greg Gard picked up the final box score, grabbed a pen and started to circle some numbers.

The first he went for was points in the paint, an area where North Carolina (26-12) averages 37.5 points and where Wisconsin held the Tar Heels to only 28. Next he circled Wisconsin’s turnovers against the Tar Heels’ pressure. It was the number five, which included only one miscue from UW’s guards against 10 assists.

Lastly he circled the shooting numbers of Hayes, Kaminsky and Bronson Koenig, who shot 10-for-31 overall and 3-for-19 in the first half. His reaction when he was done? Gutsy.

“They have huge heart,” said Gard. “They are very talented and everyone talks about that. Obviously we’ve got really good players, but deep down they’re a group that has a lot of fight in them. They won’t quit. They won’t back down when things get a little rough. We’ve had it during the year, this tournament run, they’ve been able to dig deep and circle the wagons and rally back.”

Down seven with just over 11 minutes to go, Wisconsin made its move by getting production from many sources: Koenig hit a 3-pointer, Showalter attacking the rim and battling through ramps, Josh Gasser with a 3-pointer and the Badgers going 14-for-15 from the free throw line in the second half.

And of course there was Dekker, who scored 15 of UW’s 31 first-half points and used his athleticism to dunk or finish at the rim. After shooting 36.7 percent in the first half, Wisconsin averaged 1.55 points per possession in the second half, closing the final 6:20 on a 23-12 run.

WISCONSIN NOTES

The Badgers were 6-5 against ranked opponents last season and are 20-11 against the AP Top 25 over the last four seasons. Under Greg Gard, UW is 5-5 against ranked teams including wins over No. 4 Michigan State, at No. 2 Maryland, at No. 8 Iowa and vs. No. 8 Xavier in the NCAA tournament last season. UW is 0-1 against AP Top 25 teams this year, falling 79-65 at No.22 Creighton.

Over the last 10 years, the Badgers are 20-5 in November tournaments, having won the America's Youth Classic (2007), Chicago Invitational (2011), Cancun Challenge (2013) and the Battle 4 Atlantis (2014). The Badgers later advanced to the Sweet 16 or better in all four seasons, including the Final Four in 2013 and 2014.

With 20 points against Georgetown, senior Bronson Koenig has now led UW in scoring in four of the first five games and reached the 20-point threshold in 3 of the 5 outings.

Happ is now averaging 11.6 ppg and 9.4 rpg. UW hasn't had a player average at least 9.0 rebounds per game since Rashard Griffith grabbed 10.8 rpg in 1995. Happ leads all Big Ten players with 17 offensive boards, second in Big Ten shooting (71.4 percent) and third in rebounding overall.

NORTH CAROLINA NOTES

Carolina was picked to finish second in the ACC by the media at the league’s annual preseason media day October 26th in Charlotte. Duke was picked to finish first and received 85 of the 91 first-place votes. The Tar Heels were the only other team to receive first-place votes.

This is Carolina’s seventh appearance in the Maui Invitational. The Tar Heels have won the event three times (1999-2000, 2004-05 and 2008-09) and lost in the finals twice (1989- 90 and 1995-96). Carolina is 17-3 in six previous Maui Invitational appearances.

The Tar Heels returned three starters from last year– senior forward Kennedy Meeks, junior point guard Joel Berry II and junior forward Justin Jackson. This is the ninth time in 14 seasons and the third year in a row that a Roy Williams-coached UNC team returns at least three starters.

The Tar Heels entered Maui having 88 assists on 132 field goals (67 percent). Four different players have double-digit assists and five different Tar Heels have led Carolina in assists in the first four games (you read that correctly). The Heels had 16 assists in their semifinals win.

PREDICTION

Following its second-straight night of dropping at least 100 points, North Carolina’s Justin Jackson was asked if the Tar Heels were “clicking on all cylinders” after a couple of uneven early season performances.

“That's a scary term because it's only the sixth game of the season,” he said. “So to look down here and see six people in double figures, that's pretty crazy against a really good team. So I think we can still get a whole lot better. I know Coach thinks the same exact thing.”

With all due respect, that’s the scariest thing of all.

Since arriving in Maui, UNC has averaged 105.5 points per game and won by 37.5 points per game. The Tar Heels have five players averaging double figures in scoring this season, are No.3 in adjusted offensive efficiency by KenPom (119.5 points per 100 possessions) and have scored 80 or more points in its first five games since Roy Williams’ first year as head coach in 2003.

Oklahoma State wanted to play fast in the semifinals and North Carolina turned the game into a track meet, Wisconsin wants to slow the tempo while still being efficient on offense (12th in KenPom adjusted offense at 114.5) and solid on defense (UW is 10th at 91.9 points).

UNC gets its offense in a number of ways. The Tar Heels are fifth nationally in rebounding margin (18.2) and fifth nationally in offensive rebounding per game (17.67), average 46.7 points per game in the paint and is 12th in adjusted defense at 92.2.

The only thing holding UNC back this year was playing with some aggression, and that wasn’t the case Tuesday.

“I think that (Oklahoma State) got our focus,” Williams said. “That's encouraging to me to see how we can do when we really focus and play at that same energy level.”

If Wisconsin wants to win, the Badges need to make perimeter shots and have to hold on to the ball like Badgers teams of old. UW is shooting only 30.7 percent from 3-point range (just 5-for-22 vs. Georgetown) and is turning the ball over 14.2 times per game. In Maui, UW committed 18 turnovers against Tennessee and eight in the first half in Georgetown. The Badgers made only five in the second half but the amount of miscues – especially considering the veteran nature of this team – have been surprising.

“It wasn't really anything that the defense did to us, it was our decisions,” Gard said of the Tennessee game. “And for a program that really prides itself historically on taking care of the ball, that wasn't going to be accepted. So they understood that and they are very aware of how important those possessions are. And it's across the board. It's different things. Sometimes it's going too fast. Sometimes it's the type of pass we've made.

“I thought (Tuesday) individual players played within the things they do well, their strengths. We didn't try to become somebody we're not, individually and as a team. So we've got to get better. Thirteen is still too many in my eyes, and we have specific things we'll point out and they'll know. There's some that are going to be acceptable based on the pace of play.”

If UW doesn’t run its tempo, the Badgers have no chance, although a victory tonight seems tough to come by against a team that treats Hawaii likes its second home court.

UW surprised me last night by matching and surpassing Georgetown’s intensity and neutralizing its strength. Even with UW’s veteran makeup, the Badgers would really surprise me if they could do it again.

Tar Heels by 13.

Worgull's Record: 3-2

Points off Prediction: 67 (13.4 per game)


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