Preview: Wisconsin vs. North Carolina
North Carolina’s stellar frontcourt faces its toughest test of the young season Wednesday as the fourth-ranked Tar Heels face No. 14 Wisconsin in the Maui Invitational championship game.
Both teams advanced following impressive efforts Tuesday as the Tar Heels posted a 107-75 win over Oklahoma State and Wisconsin dominated the boards in a 73-57 victory over Georgetown.
Five players are averaging double figures in scoring for the Tar Heels, who boast a frontline led by 6-foot-10 Kennedy Meeks, 6-foot-9 Isaiah Hicks, 6-foot-8 Justin Jackson along with 6-foot-11 freshman Tony Bradley, who is averaging 11.5 points on 72 percent shooting.
North Carolina will need another strong outing from its big men against a veteran Badgers team that outrebounded Georgetown by a 50-21 margin and outscored the Hoyas 38-16 in the paint.
Sophomore center Ethan Happ recorded 19 points and 15 rebounds to lead the Badgers, who turned in their most complete performance of the young season. Wednesday’s contest is a rematch of a 2015 NCAA Tournament regional semifinal, which the Badgers won, 79-72.
TV: 9 p.m., ESPN2
About Wisconsin (4-1)
Senior point guard Bronson Koenig scored 20 points in the win over Georgetown and has three 20-point games this season after having four in his first three years.
“This year I’m really just trying to stay on attack the whole game and just be consistently more aggressive, because that opens up everything else,” Koenig told reporters.
Happ has averaged 17.5 points and 10.5 rebounds in the last two games to lead the frontcourt, while senior forward Vitto Brown remains an underestimated threat from beyond the arc.
About North Carolina (6-0)
Junior point guard Joel Berry III scored a career-high 24 points against Oklahoma State while Jackson turned in another impressive outing with 22 points, eight rebounds and six assists.
Guard Nate Britt chipped in 12 points for the Tar Heels, who had little trouble controlling Oklahoma State’s up-tempo offense and earned high praise from Cowboys coach Brad Underwood.
“They are a very, very good basketball team and if we play another team that good, I hope that it’s deep in March and we’ve had time to grow,” he told reporters.
1. North Carolina won two national titles and reached the Final Four after its previous three Maui Invitational championships.
2. The Badgers have won 40 of their last 50 regular-season nonconference games.
3. The Tar Heels are 33-5 all-time in Hawaii.
PREDICTION: North Carolina 74, Wisconsin 69.