Micah Potter has experienced something none of his University of Wisconsin men's basketball teammates can match.
Winning a game at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Indiana, where the Badgers (17-12) will open the NCAA Tournament on Friday, March 19, with a game against North Carolina (18-10).
There are a lot of unique elements to this particular NCAA Tournament thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the fact some teams are playing at a conference rival's arena is one of them. UW is one of five Big Ten teams opening the event on Purdue's home court, joining Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan and Maryland.
"When there's fans in that arena, especially Purdue fans, it's one of the best venues in the country from a fan standpoint," Potter said. "It definitely is nice to be able to have played there before, have the familiarity with the gym, the rims, depth perception, all that kind of stuff."
Potter was a sophomore at Ohio State when the Buckeyes beat host Purdue on Feb. 7, 2018. He scored five points in 10 minutes off the bench.
UW hasn't won at Mackey since 2014 and is 4-42 all-time at the venue. The Badgers are 0-5 under coach Greg Gard at Mackey, with Potter playing in two of those defeats since arriving at UW as a transfer.
As Potter pointed out, there's a big difference between facing an opponent at a neutral-site venue — as will be the case for the UW-North Carolina game — and playing Purdue on its home court.
The Badgers' only wins at Mackey, which opened in 1968, came in 1972, 2005, 2012 and 2014. Gard was an assistant under Bo Ryan for three of those victories, the first of which ended a 29-game losing streak in West Lafayette.
UW had a chance to win at Mackey earlier this month but dropped a 73-69 decision to Purdue on March 2. The Badgers went 7 of 29 from 3-point range in that game, missing 22 of their final 26 attempts.
They return to a familiar spot just more than two weeks later.
"UNC's a good team, so regardless of how comfortable we are playing in Mackey, we've still got to make sure we're prepared for UNC," Potter said. "Yeah it's nice, but we've still got a big challenge ahead of us."
UW freshman forward Ben Carlson, who hasn't played since December due to an unspecified upper-body injury, is back practicing and even suited up for two Big Ten tournament games last week.
But Gard isn't expecting Carlson to contribute much in the NCAA Tournament even though North Carolina has four players who are 6-foot-10 or taller in its rotation.
Other than Potter and fellow senior Nate Reuvers, the Badgers don't have any players that big in their rotation. Sophomore Joe Hedstrom and freshman Steven Crowl are 7-foot reserves who seldom play.
Carlson has appeared in six games and has played 63 minutes. All but four of those minutes came in the first four games of the season, with the highlight for Carlson being the 13 points he scored in his UW debut against Eastern Illinois.
His most recent appearance was a late cameo in a win over Loyola Chicago on Dec. 15.
"I think he's missed so much (time)," Gard said. "He's just getting back into contact practicing and that's even been limited in some regards. He hasn't taken a full dose. He did practice, he was full-go (Tuesday) for the first time really of getting all the reps. ...
"He's been out of the rhythm of it for so long that I don't know if that's a good position to put him in, I think more than anything else."
North Carolina coach Roy Williams is 29-0 in NCAA Tournament openers: 14-0 at Kansas and 15-0 since taking over the Tar Heels in 2003.
"That's great," North Carolina senior forward Garrison Brooks said. "Something that we hope to keep going."
The Tar Heels are a No. 8 seed this season, matching the worst starting point in the 30 years a Williams coached team has made the tournament. North Carolina opened as a No. 8 seed in 2013 and beat Villanova 78-71, while Kansas beat DePaul 81-77 in overtime as a No. 8 seed in 2000.
Williams reached 900 wins for his career earlier this season. He's 903-263, a .774 winning percentage, in 33 seasons as a coach.
"He's had really good teams whether he's been at Kansas or North Carolina," said Gard, who is 2-1 in NCAA Tournament openers. "So that's part of it. And obviously he's a Hall of Fame coach.
"He's been doing it for a long time and obviously had tremendous success at both places. I think it's a combination: I think it's obviously always having good teams but also him doing a good job of preparing them and putting them in that position."
Numbers sometimes lie?
North Carolina's opponents are shooting 40% and turning the ball over an average of 15 times over the Tar Heels' last six games.
Those marks are a step up from the Tar Heels' opponents' season averages of 42.1% shooting and 13.9 opponent turnovers per game. While acknowledging his team has played better on the defensive end, Williams said numbers can be deceiving.
"You tell me (those stats) and I think we're one of the worst defensive teams I've ever coached in my life, so that part's funny — peculiar, it's not funny, I can assure you," Williams said.
"We have worked awfully hard, but let's think a little bit again about numbers. We're bigger, so we don't give up as many easy shots around the rim, so that takes people's field-goal percentage down. We rebound it better, so they don't get as many opportunities to even get that second shot."
Add the Tar Heels to the list of those who have suggestions on how to improve the NCAA's quasi-bubble in Indianapolis. Players on tournament teams have shared on social media their dissatisfaction with the food served to rooms and spotty wireless internet service, which caused the North Carolina news conference to cut out three times Wednesday, March 17.
"It hasn't exactly been Maui," Williams said.
Colten Bartholomew contributed to this story.
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