Barnes provides the spark as No. 5 Tar Heels surge past No. 9 Badgers
Harrison Barnes left little doubt about his health, scoring 20 points in UNC's win
Jared Berggren impressed as Wisconsin proved it is more than just Jordan Taylor
UNC flashed its defensive prowess, holding the Badgers to 28.6 percent shooting
|(5) North Carolina||(9) Wisconsin|
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Five thoughts from No. 5 North Carolina's 60-57 victory over No. 9 Wisconsin on Wednesday night.
1. Harrison Barnes' ankle is just fine. After rolling his ankle in the second half of UNC's stunning loss to UNLV, Barnes was listed as questionable entering Wednesday's game with Wisconsin. Forty minutes later, he left little doubt to the status of his health.
Barnes' full scoring arsenal was on display in the Tar Heels' win. He showed off his potent mid-range jumper, netting shots from 11, 12 and 14 feet. He demonstrated a willingness to drive that was absent his freshman year, and was six of seven from the free throw line. Perhaps most important, he was efficient beyond the arc, converting two of three attempts, including a dagger midway through the second half that vaulted UNC -- and its previously lifeless crowd -- back into the game. The latter was particularly encouraging: Barnes shot just 34 percent from distance during the 2010-'11 campaign.
When UNC struggled most -- and appeared wholly lost in stints -- he provided the necessary spark. He overcame several early mistakes and a trio of careless turnovers to will the Tar Heels to victory over a top 10 foe. It wasn't pretty, but it worked. That's the mark of a bona fide leader -- and the potential Player of the Year.
2. UNC wins with tempo, and so does Wisconsin. For the first three-quarters of the game, Wisconsin executed its half-court tempo to perfection. It led 36-31 with 11:43 remaining, holding one of the nation's most high-powered attacks -- averaging 88 points per game -- in check. Carolina was lulled to sleep, with Kendall Marshall and Dexter Strickland forcing ill-advised passes into the paint.
Then, thanks in large part to Barnes' takeover, UNC flipped a switch. Over the final 11:42: Carolina 29, Wisconsin 21.
The scoring dichotomy makes a few things evident. When Roy Williams and Co. are playing in rhythm, they're nearly impossible to stop. Their size and athleticism poses matchup nightmares, and John Henson -- equipped with an enormous 7-foot-4 wingspan -- can create multiple second-chance looks. Case in point: He corralled a game-high 17 boards, two-thirds of Wisconsin's team total.
But this is equally telling: When the Badgers impose their slow-it-down style, they can hang with anyone. At halftime, they trailed by a point despite shooting 33 percent from the field. That, in itself, speaks volumes about Bo Ryan's fundamental approach to the game.
3. The Badgers are deeper than just Jordan Taylor. The biggest question about Wisconsin entering the season: Other than its preseason All-America point guard, can anyone else consistently produce?
Answer: Jared Berggren, Ryan Evans and perhaps the most underrated sophomore in the nation, Ben Brust.
Berggren was especially impressive. He tallied 14 points and five rebounds, displaying surprising versatility for someone with less than 500 career minutes. He blew past Tar Heel defenders for a pair of driving layups in the second half, and even connected on a crucial three to cut the lead to 49-44 before Reggie Bullock answered on the other end. If he can continue to contribute, Madison may have a capable replacement for Jon Leuer.
And keep an eye on Brust. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound sparkplug has the makings of a fan favorite, shooting 46.5 percent from three through seven games. He could play a key role spacing the floor for Taylor to operate come spring.
4. The Tar Heels can defend, after all. For all of the apocalyptic talk that surrounded Carolina following Saturday's upset, a game in which it was outscored 52-38 in the second half, the team looked unmistakably staunch on defense against Wisconsin. Its ferocious frontcourt of Henson, Barnes and seven-footer Tyler Zeller contested every shot on the interior, and its guards did a terrific job hedging on the outside. Wisconsin entered the game shooting 47.2 percent from three. They were held to just 8-of-28 shooting, a meager 28.6 percent.
Strickland's man-on-man coverage of Taylor was particularly striking. Strickland stayed in front of him all night, and though Taylor finished with 18 points, he hoisted up 20 shot attempts in the process. That's far too inefficient to beat UNC on the road.
5. Wisconsin is overly reliant on the three. Heading into the contest, nobody argued with the Badgers' free-firing method on offense. They averaged 11.2 threes per game, the second-most in the nation. After a woeful performance in Chapel Hill, however, issue needs to be raised.
Wisconsin had little -- if any -- movement during the second half, running its offense entirely off the dribble. Taylor was routinely isolated during the shot clock's final seconds, and stagnancy was the norm. He was forced to make something out of nothing. He failed more often than not.
The Badgers, without question, are still one of the nation's premier perimeter teams. But especially in future showdowns against Aaron Craft and Ohio State, they'll need to implement more movement to have a realistic shot to win.