The beginning of the NCAA tournament’s second weekend usually signals the beginning of business time. The games get serious and potential contenders come against other potential contenders. One of Thursday’s more intriguing matchups is the contest between the ACC’s North Carolina Tar Heels and the Big Ten’s Wisconsin Badgers.
Senior guard Traveor Jackson’s status is still up in the air for this game and he is a major wildcard for the Badgers. However, Wisconsin have still looked pretty good without him winning in assured fashion against Coastal Carolina and Oregon.
The conversation about this team starts with Frank Kaminsky. The senior had a relatively quiet game against the Ducks in round three scoring 16 points and picking up seven rebounds. North Carolina has some big bodies to throw at Kaminsky in the paint, but they don’t possess the obvious defensive flexibility and athleticism to match his offensive ability on the inside.
Bo Ryan’s team are looking to go further than last year when they were upset in the Final Four and the Tar Heels are the first serious road block for this team to face. The 2014-15 Badgers do have some unusual vulnerability defensively compared against previous Ryan teams and this could be an open and high-scoring contest.
The Tar Heels survived a round two scare edging out the Harvard Crimson, before completing a more comprehensive victory over the Arkansas Razorbacks. North Carolina has a trio of front court players who will be used in tandem against Kaminsky – they haven’t had a tremendous amount of success against versatile front court offensive players with Jahili Okafor being the obvious example.
Point guard Marcus Paige has had a pretty good start to the NCAA tournament and it’ll be interesting to see how Ryan approaches the task defensively. After a slow February, North Carolina head coach has found a way to release Paige and get him playing with a little more freedom offensively once again. He had only 12 points against Harvard, but managed to grab six assists. He was a little more assertive against Arkansas picking up 22 points.
Betting Preview: Wisconsin (-6.5) vs. North Carolina
So many tournament games are tight, but it feels like the Tar Heels have gone just about as far as they can go. They don’t have a strong enough defense to stop Wisconsin from scoring and it feels like the Badgers experience will start telling in terms of their defensive performances from this point in the tournament on. Expect a big night from Kaminsky and for Wisconsin to set up a fascinating re-match with the Arizona Wildcats in the Elite Eight phase.
The Pick: Wisconsin (-6.5) (www.betonline.ag)
Writer’s Record Against The Spread: 35-29