The Badgers and the Tar Heels will meet in a second championship in Maui this week. Yes, you read that right. These Badgers have already faced the Tar Heels on Sunday in the pre-tournament Corn Hole championship game. But tonight’s game carries a little more weight than that.
There’s no doubt that tonight will be the Badgers toughest on the early season, and looking at this Tar Heels team, it might be one of the largest tests they’ll have all season. It goes without saying that Roy Williams’ side is always a prepared and tenacious side no matter what stage of the season, and the Badgers will get a full taste of that tonight in Maui as they take on the #4 ranked Tar Heels.
This matchup has all the potential to point straight to March, and you can bet that the level of this game will be nothing short of late-season.
The Badgers have advanced their way to the Championship in Maui by way of defeating Tennessee on Monday and flat out out-playing Georgetown yesterday in the Semi-Final backed by stellar performances from Ethan Happ and Bronson Koenig.
The Tar Heels have advanced their way to the Championship in Maui by way of two easy match ups, defeating Chaminade on Monday and Oklahoma State yesterday in the Semi-Final.
Kennedy Meeks, Justin Jackson, and Joel Berry II had fantastic performances in the Semi-Final against the under-matched Cowboys. It’s no secret to anybody that the Badgers will need to play a full 40 minutes to defeat this Tar Heels team that’s already looking in mid-season form.
A key for the Badgers will be setting the pace and the tempo of the game early on. Jay Bilas said yesterday that Roy Williams is the type of coach that always tells his players to go faster, faster, faster in their ball movement and fast breaks, and it will be critical for Wisconsin to not fall into that style of play and play their game of slow, tough basketball. It will be important for Ethan Happ again to be a force on the glass along with Vitto Brown and a mix of Illikainen and Thomas and not give anything easy inside to Kennedy Meeks.
The last meeting between the Tar Heels and the Badgers came in the Sweet 16 in 2015 where the Badgers defeated the Tar Heels en route to a National Championship appearance where they fell to UNC rival Duke. For those of you who remember, Zak Showalter had a phenomenal game off the bench for the Badgers.
It will be key for the Badgers to have production from their bench players tonight. Khalil Iverson was a spark off the bench in shutting down Pryor and Peake on defense yesterday, and Trice was huge off the bench coming in and running the point and allowing Koenig to play the 2-guard. It will be tough for the Tar Heels to give full court pressure against this Badgers team if Trice, Koenig and Showalter are in the backcourt.
This will be the first meeting between the Tar Heels and the Badgers with Greg Gard as Head Coach.
There’s a lot of uncertainty about how tonight will go in Maui, but there are a few things that are certain. Tonight’s going to be a classic. It’s going to be a battle. It’s going to feel like March.
King’s Prediction: BADGERS 71 North Carolina 67