Four incredible games kick off the Sweet 16 on Thursday, and any or all of them could wind up being a classic.
But No. 1 Wisconsin (33-3) versus No. 4 North Carolina (26-11) could be the most entertaining. The Badgers are one of the most methodical, efficient teams in the country, while the Tar Heels want to turn the game into a track meet.
Contrasting styles aside, North Carolina has to find a way to limit Frank Kaminsky. Expect Kennedy Meeks, Brice Johnson and J.P. Tokoto to come at Kaminsky in waves and use a lot of fouls against him.
“The thing about Frank, it’s his versatility both as an inside presence if he needs to be or out at the arc,” Westwood One play-by-play announcer Wayne Larivee said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “The problem for North Carolina is that he’ll try to pull one of their bigs out from under the basket. That’s going to be trouble for them. Meeks, even if he was healthy – and he has that knee injury – he’s questionable for the ball game. I saw him in practice today. I think he moved well enough to play in the game. I just don’t know how much he’ll be able to play.
“Isaiah Hicks is probably going to start for North Carolina,” Larivee continued. “He’s 6-8, so he’s not quite Frank’s size, but he has a little more foot speed than their other big people, including Meeks. But this is a tough matchup for North Carolina. On the other side of the ledger, North Carolina’s tempo, the way they like to control the speed of the game – and by that, I mean get the game into the open floor – that’s the challenge for Wisconsin: not to allow the Tar Heels to get there.”
The Tar Heels weren’t exactly known for their defense this season, but they could score with the best of them – even if most of it came around the basket – and they were one of the best rebounding teams in America.
“This is interesting with this region,” Larivee said. “We have two of the best rebounding teams left in the tournament – Arizona being one and of course as you mentioned North Carolina. They led the ACC in rebounding margin at +8.1. This is a team that has a lot of length throughout this ball club, and up front they’ve been able to do a very good job of that. The other thing they do is off of those rebounds, they’ll score – either get the game into the open floor off those rebounds with their fast break, or, again, offensive rebounds and put-backs. That’s been a big part of what they do. They score a lot of their points in the paint because this North Carolina team is not one of the better three-point shooting teams in the country.”
Wisconsin, meanwhile, is one of the most efficient offensive teams in college basketball. Kaminsky might be the best player in the country, Sam Dekker plays even bigger than his 6-9 frame, Bronson Koenig has been clutch and Nigel Hayes has really come on strong in March.
Last year’s Sixth Man of the Year in the Big Ten, Hayes has started every game this season. He had 25 points against Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship and has 29 points, 13 rebounds and six assists through two NCAA Tournament games.
“He’s had a great tournament,” Larivee said. “He’s really played terrifically in the tournament. So has Dekker. So has Frank Kaminsky. Koenig has been a very steading influence in that point guard spot since Traevon Jackson went down in mid-January. He’s done a great job.”