On Thursday night, the Wisconsin Badgers will face the #4 seeded North Carolina Tar Heels in a very dangerous Sweet 16 match-up.
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Many experts have predicted the upset, and I have to admit, the match-up is scary. UNC has the quick guards that Wisconsin has struggled with all season long, namely pre-season All-American Marcus Paige, who had 22 points against Arkansas in the Round of 32. They have the size and athleticism to guard the Badgers inside, even if center Kennedy Meeks is out.
Furthermore, they are one of the best rebounding teams in the nation, push the ball in transition, and are currently red hot. Even if the Badgers get past the Heels, the 2 seeded Arizona Wildcats, a top 5 team in the country, likely await them in the Elite 8. They are also big, athletic, and playing great basketball over the past few games.
So it’s not going to be an easy ride back to the Final 4. But the Badgers can do it, as long as they follow these 3 keys.
Duje Dukan Needs to Shoot Well
Maybe it’s something about tournaments? Because Dukan really plays well on the one and done stage. Not just the NCAA Tournament either.
He basically won the Badgers the Georgetown and Oklahoma games in the Battle 4 Atlantis with 21 combined points. He kept the Badgers in the Big 10 championship against Michigan State with his 11 huge points, allowing the starters to win in overtime. Even last year, he had 8 points down the stretch against Kentucky that allowed Wisconsin to stay in the game.
The point being, Dukan doesn’t shy away from pressure. He thrives under it. And they’re going to need him to continue his great shooting in big-time games. In close games this season, Dukan became the difference between the wins and losses. He had 10 points combined in their 3 losses. In 2 sure-fire close games, Dukan will again be the x-factor.
It’s weird to say that the Badgers season rests in the hands of their 7th man, but it’s the truth. Bo Ryan needs him shooting well and scoring points. Otherwise, a Sweet 16 could be the end of the road.
Points in the Paint
The Badgers aren’t a great team because of their 3-point shooting. That’s certainly an added bonus, but that’s not why they are a 1-seed and approaching greatness.
They are great because they have Frank Kaminsky, the National Player of the Year favorite, who can’t be stopped inside. They have Nigel Hayes, who is nearly unstoppable on the block. They have Sam Dekker, who is one of the most explosive forwards in the game.
Those three can dominate teams inside. So there is no reason to continue launching 3 after 3 after 3.
Now don’t get me wrong. This team can shoot. They’ve shot their way to plenty of wins. But shooting from deep is a fatal strategy in the NCAA Tournament. When nerves are high, and players are playing on uncomfortable courts with their season on the line, shots may not fall. Just see what happened to Villanova.
The difference with the Badgers though, is that they can get points inside and at the free-throw line when the shots aren’t falling. And against UNC, it’s important to get the ball inside instead of launching 3’s. They do need to shoot 3’s to win. But the majority of their shot attempts should come from the paint to maximize their chances.
Improved Defensive Rebounding
UNC is one of the elite offensive rebounding teams in the country. Arizona isn’t exactly a slouch in that category either. If the Badgers are going to win both games, they are going to need to box out like their season depends on it.
Both teams already shoot sky high from the field, and if they are able to rebound their already few misses, the Badgers will be in trouble.
Generally this season, Wisconsin has been solid on the defensive glass, but some plays against Michigan State and Oregon were concerning. The Spartans rebounded 7 of their misses, while the Ducks collected 10 of them. And the scary thing? Neither of those teams have even close to the size and athleticism of UNC and Arizona.
The defensive rebounding must improve for the Badgers to make it to Indianapolis.