UNC-Wisconsin: What to watch

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina coach Roy Williams can’t help but be impressed by seventh-ranked Wisconsin, which plays his No. 5 Tar Heels in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge tonight.

"You watch them on tape, and they are really something," he said. “They’re shooting 47 percent as a team from the 3-point line. They have a guy who’s shooting 71 percent from (the) 3-point line. They’re out-rebounding people by 14 rebounds a game. They’re holding people to 39 points a game. And people can say, ‘Well, they’ve haven’t played that tough a schedule’ but it’s hard to hold people to 39 points a game after six games.”

But the stat Williams is most impressed by: 30.5. That's the percentage teams are shooting against the Badgers' defense.

“It’s a difficult matchup for us, there’s no question,’’ Williams said. “Our big guys have to be able to get out on the court. We have to be able to defend the 3-point line.”

They’ve also got to be able to rebound – something they struggled with in their loss to UNLV, when the Runnin’ Rebels out-toughed them, particularly on the offensive glass.

Some other things to watch tonight:

1. UNC forward Tyler Zeller

At the beginning of the season, the 7-foot senior said his most important personal goal was a high shooting percentage. But over his last two games, he’s made only 5 of his 18 shots, including a 1-for-6 night against UNLV. Foul trouble may have been a factor, but so was a lack of aggression.

“I used to say the greatest thing about Sean May and Tyler Hansbrough, both, is the last thing the opposing coach said before he left his locker room was, ‘We’ve got to stop May, we’ve got to stop Hansbrough,’" Williams said on his Monday night radio show. “They were the focus of the defense, but they still shot 54, 56, 58 percent. Brad Daugherty is the most efficient player who ever played here, the defense was designed to stop Brad, and he led the entire nation in field-goal percentage. So now, all of a sudden, defenses are really focusing on John [Henson] and Z.

“… He’s got to throw the ball out, and guys have got to do a better job of moving and making shots, and then it’s going to be more difficult to double on him.”

Zeller also need to me more of a factor on the boards – he’s only pulled down 12 rebounds his last two games.

2. The point guard matchup

Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan called the duel between UNC’s Kendall Marshall and Badgers senior Jordan Taylor ‘the challenge within the Challenge,’ and although there will be plenty of other factors in this game, which ballhandler helps his team control the pace could ultimately earn bragging rights.

Transition defense will be particularly key for the Badgers, Ryan said.

“The idea is to get back, protect the rim, and then protect against shooters – and that takes five guys,’’ he said. “You definitely want to be in a five-on-five games with them. If you’re in an open area of three-on-three, Carolina wins three-on-three. Carolina beats anybody in the country three-on-three, four-on-four. Five-on-five is your best chance.”

For UNC, whoever matches up with Taylor – and it probably will be shooting guard Dexter Strickland – has got to stop his dribble penetration in hopes of slowing a Badgers 3-point barrage.

“That’s what college basketball is these days,’’ Williams said. “You’ve got to do a better job guarding dribble penetration, and if they break you down off the dribble, and they can shoot it a lick, it’s difficult guard them.”

3. Harrison Barnes’ ankle

The sophomore wasn’t limping when he walked through the press room Tuesday, and he gave a thumbs-up sign when he walked back through, returning to practice. A team spokesman said he practiced fully, and was feeling good. But is that right ankle, turned during Saturday’s loss, 100 percent?

Robbi Pickeral can be reached at bylinerp@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter at @bylinerp.