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The Daily Tar Heel

Analysis: UNC basketball needs to rely on its bigs in upcoming bout with Wisconsin

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UNC senior forward Garrison Brooks shoots a free throw at the game against Louisville on Saturday, Feb. 20 2021 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill. UNC won 99-54.

The North Carolina men's basketball team has been playing some of its most complete games of the last two years headed into March. The Tar Heels' final push, including late wins against Florida State and Virginia Tech, has secured them an eight-seed and a chance to once again dance in March. 

On Friday, March 19, the Tar Heels will face Wisconsin, which was once ranked as high as No. 4 nationally before struggles against a competitive Big Ten schedule knocked the Badgers out of the top-25. 

This competition will be only the second time that a Tar Heel team led by Roy Williams has entered the Big Dance seeded seven or lower. The other instance was a 2013 match-up against Villanova, where P.J. Hairston led eighth-seeded UNC to a first-round win and Williams' 700th career victory. Here are the keys to North Carolina repeating that success this year. 

Stay Big, Bruh

The Tar Heels' success has undoubtedly come from inside the paint this season. Early on, the trio of Armando Bacot, Garrison Brooks and Day'Ron Sharpe offered UNC's offense consistent scoring as their young guards adjusted to the speed of play. 

Now, recent breakout performances by 7-foot-1 first-year Walker Kessler, including a near triple-double against Notre Dame, have just added more gas to the frontcourt fire. This lethal combination of size and depth is the Tar Heels' biggest weapon, but Wisconsin's frontcourt has size of its own, with four players 6-foot-9 or taller averaging 10 minutes or more in their frontcourt rotation. 

UNC will need to stay dominant in the paint and continue to feed its big men, despite the Badgers' size, with two of their top three scorers in Bacot and Brooks playing down low. The Tar Heels have also had great success on the offensive glass and will look to continue that against a Wisconsin team with a rebounding margin of -1.0.  

3-Point Defense 

It's no secret that the Tar Heels have struggled with 3-point defense all season — they rank 228th in the country in 3-point field goal defense, with their opponents shooting 34.5 percent from beyond the arc. This sloppiness defending the perimeter is even more dangerous against the Wisconsin team that knocks down an average of 36 percent of their shots from 3-point land.

The Tar Heels will have to tighten up their outside defense, especially against D'Mitrik Trice, the Badgers' leader in 3-pointers with 57 on the season. North Carolina will also look to first-year guard Kerwin Walton, who averages 41.5 percent shooting from downtown, as a possible answer to 3-point scoring from Wisconsin.

Don't Stall Out

The Tar Heels have struggled with scoring droughts all season, and this Achilles' heel could be more vulnerable against a Badgers' team that ranks 13th in adjusted defensive efficiency. These scoring droughts are usually a result of turnovers — UNC averages 14.8 per game — and poor shot selection, which will be a major struggle against Wisconsin's slow style of play.

North Carolina needs to find consistent scoring efficiency and capitalize on each possession, especially because the Badgers turn the ball over on average only nine times per game. 

The Tar Heels can also find success if they push the pace. Williams is comfortable with his team playing fast, as opposed to the slower pace of Wisconsin — meaning speed of play could be a major advantage if North Carolina can capitalize on fast breaks. 

@marymacporter1

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com


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