Elite Eight foes are as different as they come
SYRACUSE, N.Y. Wisconsin and North Carolina star Sunday afternoon in "Nothing In Common."
The Badgers are more deliberate than Bernhard Langer on Sunday at Augusta. They haven't scored more than 77 points in a game since December.
"Wisconsin, more than any team we've played, walks it up," Carolina center Sean May said. "They don't even jog it up."
The go-go Tar Heels play as though there's a bonus for scoring within the first 10 seconds of each possession. If 77 is the impossible point total for Wisconsin, it's a twice-weekly routine for Carolina, which has scored that much or more 18 times since December.
"They get up the floor just as fast as anybody I've seen," Wisconsin guard Kammron Taylor said.
The Badgers are from the Big Ten Conference, which was widely panned as Illinois and a muddle of Midwestern mediocrity. (Yes, myself included.) Against the odds, the Big Shoulders Conference landed three teams in the final eight.
The Heels are from the Atlantic Coast Conference, which was widely praised as the best conference in the country. Now the conference pins its hopes on Carolina, its last team standing.
The Badgers have a single hamburger All-American, Brian Butch, who was redshirted last year and is only a bit player this year. Their starting lineup includes a former walk-on, Clayton Hanson, a bookish business major whose future looks brighter in real estate than basketball.
The Heels can put a McDonald's honoree on the floor at every position. NBA scouts know Carolina's lineup better than they know the names of their children.
Bo Ryan has a small-college pedigree, spending 15 years as head coach at Wisconsin-Plattville and two at Wisconsin-Milwaukee before getting the job in Madison. He's spent much more time on buses than charter flights.
Roy Williams has spent his entire coaching career in the high-rent district, first assisting Dean Smith at Carolina, then as the head coach at Kansas, and now back at his alma mater. Roy wouldn't know D-III from 3-D.
One team is as exciting to watch as two hours of a test pattern. The other is the most dazzling show in college basketball.
"When you're playing to go on, it's not about excitement," said one of Wisconsin's more captivating players, Alando Tucker. "It's about who's moving on, who's consistent. If you're going home at the end of the day, that's not fun.
"It doesn't take big-name players to get far. We're a team. We focus on the team concept."
The team concept is where a lot of critics thought this talented Carolina team was falling short the past two years. In fact, at a Carolina reunion game last summer, former players piled on the criticism. Makhtar Ndiaye of all people referred to the current team as the "Chapel Hill Lakers."
Asked if that label were accurate, senior Jawad Williams said yes.
"We had all the talent in the world and we didn't win," Williams said.
So if contrast makes for appealing matchups, the Syracuse Region final offers plenty of that. But the biggest tactical issue on the Carrier Dome floor will be who can dictate tempo.
Wisconsin is accustomed to opponents trying to pressure it into a speed-up game.
"We've got to take care of the ball," Badgers point guard Sharif Chambliss said. "Once you take care of the ball, you can get a shot at the rim. No quick shots unless it's a good shot, and guys on this team know what a good shot is."
Carolina is accustomed to opponents trying to milk the clock and slow them down.
"We're really prepared for that," point guard Raymond Felton said.
In a halfcourt setting, the crucial decision facing Ryan is how to defend powerhouse center Sean May. Ryan greatly prefers playing one-on-one, man-to-man defense trapping and double-teaming are not his thing.
"We try to get around (the offensive player) and make them throw lobs," Wilkinson said.
But the last time Ryan tried to single-cover a powerful low-post player in the NCAA Tournament, the Badgers were sent home by Kentucky. Center Marquis Estill dropped one short shot after another on Wisconsin in the 2003 Sweet 16, scoring 29 points.
And Marquis Estill is no Sean May.
"Our thing is to try to get the ball inside, by penetration or passing anyway," Jawad Williams said. "Hopefully Sean plays a great game tomorrow."
This much seems certain: If both teams play at the top of their games, the Tar Heels will win.
The teams have played three common opponents: Indiana, Maryland and North Carolina State.
Wisconsin lost by 13 at Indiana and won by two at home. Carolina won in Bloomington by seven.
Wisconsin beat Maryland by five at home. Carolina beat Maryland by 34 at home and two on the road.
Wisconsin beat NC State by nine on a neutral floor. Carolina beat NC State by 24 at home and 10 on the road.
But the Heels played well below peak level Friday night, barely getting past Villanova. Wisconsin, meanwhile, showed how much defense can keep a team in a game when it racked up zero assists and 11 turnovers in the first half against North Carolina State and still were within nine at the break.
No matter what, the greater pressure rests with the Tar Heels, who are supposed to go to St. Louis. Wisconsin, which hasn't beaten any team seeded better than 10th to get to this regional final, is playing with the casino's chips.
"If we get up 15 and make them play our way, it could get ugly," May said. "If we allow them to stay close and dictate tempo, it won't be in our favor."
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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