No. 7 Wisconsin faces its first real test of the college basketball season as it travels to Chapel Hill to take on the No. 5 North Carolina Tar Heels in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge at 8:30 p.m. CST. The game will be on ESPN and ESPN3.com. It is the first road game for the Badgers this season as it looks to go to 7-0 and North Carolina aims to rebound after a 90-80 loss to UNLV this weekend. Bo Ryan's Badgers have won six straight against ACC opponents, including three straight in the challenge. Wisconsin also has the best record in the conference in the challenge at 6-6.
This is only the second ever contest between the two programs. Their lone meeting was in the 2005 NCAA Tournament as North Carolina knocked off Wisconsin in a hard-fought 88-82 game in the Elite Eight.
This is an intriguing matchup of offense vs. defense. Wisconsin is allowing just 39.2 points per game, which is the best in the country and allowing opponents to shoot just 30.5 percent. On the other end, North Carolina is fifth in the country in scoring at 88 points per game and shooting 50.1 percent.
North Carolina is led by Preseason All-American Harrison Barnes, who may be the No. 1 overall NBA draft pick in June. However, Barnes won’t be 100% due to a sprained ankle and may see limited action. If he’s ineffective they must replace his 17 points per game.
But even without Barnes, the Tar Heels have more than enough talent to win against even the best teams in the country. The matchup to watch is Kendall Marshall going up against Jordan Taylor. Marshall is averaging 10.8 assists per game and is one of the better point guards in the country. Taylor has been a facilitator for most of the year, but he will need to come alive this game.
After shooting just 20 shots in the first three games, Taylor has shot it 31 times in the last two. He is coming off his best performance of the year against BYU, scoring 18 and adding eight assists and five rebounds. He needs to have a huge game like he had last year against Ohio State if Wisconsin wants to have a chance in this game.
The game will be won in the paint. Wisconsin needs Jared Berggren, Ryan Evans and Mike Bruesewitz to have their best games of their careers going against the Tar Heels dominant frontcourt of John Henson and Tyler Zeller. Henson is second on the team in scoring with 15.8 points per game and also leads the team in rebounding with 9.8 per game and shoots an astounding 56.2 percent. Zeller is not far behind in both categories, averaging 13.5 and 7.2, respectively.
If the Badgers want to win, Wisconsin also must keep the hot hand from behind the arc. The Badgers are shooting 48 percent from downtown, which is the best in the Big Ten and sixth in the nation. Wisconsin's 11.3 3-pointers a game also leads the Big Ten and is third in the country. Eight Badgers are shooting at least 40 percent from behind the arc, led by Josh Gasser, who is shooting an amazing 71.4 percent, and leading scorer Ben Brust, who is averaging 12.8 points per game and shooting 48.7 percent from downtown, including making a school-record tying seven against BYU over the weekend.
However, with this being the first true road game for Wisconsin and under Bo Ryan, that generally is a bad thing, as Ryan teams are 4-6 in first true road games, including losing three of its last four with one of them being to UW-Green Bay. Zeller and Henson will be too much for the Badgers, but Wisconsin's 3-point shooting will keep them in it until late.
Prediction: North Carolina 82, Wisconsin 69