WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Jake Presutti had a front-row seat to see the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team early in the 2020-21 campaign. He also had one to watch North Carolina later in the season.
When the NCAA tournament bracket was announced and the Badgers (17-12) and Tar Heels (18-10) were matched up in a first-round game in the South region, the Marquette assistant coach was naturally drawn to the intrigue of a matchup that will take place Friday night at Mackey Arena.
“It’s going to be a great matchup,” Presutti said, “and I’m looking forward to it.”
Presutti and the Golden Eagles will be watching from home after going 13-14 this season. But two of Marquette’s best wins came against the teams playing in a game that intrigues Presutti as much as any other in the first round.
Marquette beat UW 67-65 on Dec. 4 on a tip-in by freshman forward Justin Lewis at the buzzer. The Golden Eagles traveled to North Carolina in a hastily arranged non-conference game late in the season and beat the Tar Heels 83-70 on Feb. 24.
When Presutti looks at the UW-North Carolina pairing, a couple things jumped out immediately.
One was the difference in experience. The Badgers have six seniors in their eight-man rotation, returning nearly every key player from a team that went 21-10 last season and earned a share of the Big Ten regular-season title.
North Carolina, on the other hand, has six freshmen in its 10-man rotation. The Tar Heels are the least-experienced team in the NCAA tournament field, according to KenPom.
There’s also the name-recognition aspect to this matchup. North Carolina is one of the blue-blood programs in college basketball, while UW is in elite company after making 20 of the past 21 NCAA tournaments.
“Two great programs,” Presutti said.
Finally, there’s this: UW was among the biggest lineups Marquette had to prepare for this season — the Badgers were starting both Micah Potter and Nate Reuvers at the time — and North Carolina is even bigger.
“Having played them both,” Presutti said, “they’re both huge.”
Presutti agreed that any breakdown of the UW-North Carolina matchup has to start with rebounding, namely the difficulty of keeping the Tar Heels off the offensive glass.
Marquette allowed 13 offensive boards in its win over North Carolina and, while that sounds like a big number, the Golden Eagles coaching staff considered it a success because they’d held the Tar Heels under their season average. North Carolina averages 15.9 offensive rebounds per game, which would be a program record.
The Tar Heels lead the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, collecting 41.3% of their misses. This is nothing new for a program that has finished top 10 in that category in nine of Roy Williams’ 18 seasons at North Carolina, and lower than No. 21 only once.
“I’ve said for a million years guys that the most significant thing in the game, statistically, is rebounding,” Williams said this week. “You get the ball, then I get the ball, you get the ball, I get the ball, and the only way to break that cycle is for me to get an offensive rebound, which gives me (an extended) possession. And if we can stop you from getting that, then we’re way ahead in the game.”
Second-chance points accounted for 62 of North Carolina’s 248 points — exactly 25% — in three ACC tournament games last week.
The Tar Heels had 25 offensive rebounds leading to 27 second-chance points against Notre Dame; 15 offensive rebounds leading to 17 second-chance points against Virginia Tech; and 21 offensive rebounds leading to 18 second-chance points against Florida State.
Sophomore forward Armando Bacot finished with 18 offensive rebounds in those three games, while Day’Ron Sharpe had 12.
“We knew we had to get into their bodies, we had to drive them back because they’re so good at that second shot and specifically just around the rim,” Presutti said. “You do a good job (defensively), the guy drives and misses a floater, but then they just tap it in. Those are huge plays. It was an incredible focus for us, making sure that all five guys were rebounding and we were limiting them to one shot.
“I can’t stress enough how big of a deal that is for them. They have great size and those guys they do a great job — even if you’re boxing them out — of just wedging you under the basket and using their length.”
UW ranked middle of the pack this season in defensive rebounding percentage (74.7), but there were multiple instances of how not being sound in that area cost the Badgers in games against high-level competition.
Illinois produced 15 second-chance points off 11 offensive rebounds in a 75-60 win over visiting UW on Feb. 6.
Michigan turned four offensive boards by freshman center Hunter Dickinson into nine second-chance points over the final 6 minutes, 28 seconds of the Wolverines’ 67-59 win over the Badgers on Feb. 14.
Purdue finished in double digits in both offensive rebounds (11) and second-chance points (13) in a 73-69 win over UW earlier this month.
Iowa didn’t put massive numbers in those categories, but its size and length gave UW fits on the glass at times.
Potter and Reuvers haven’t started together since a loss at Michigan on Jan. 12, but UW coach Greg Gard acknowledged he may use that pairing against a North Carolina lineup that includes four players who are 6-foot-10 or taller.
“We’ve got to make sure it’s a big area that we focus on,” Potter said of keeping North Carolina off the offensive glass. “Because if you take that away, you’ve give yourself a good chance to win the game.”
Presutti believes it’s possible for an opponent to use North Carolina’s size against it.
One X-factor he listed for UW was sophomore forward Tyler Wahl, who could use his craftiness and quickness to his advantage against bigger players. Presutti also believes UW’s perimeter shooters will get good looks.
“What we tried to do was get those bigs moving, get those bigs in the ball screens and then try to get downhill because then they wanted to protect the paint, so they would converge and we were driving and kicking,” he said. “In our game, our guys did a great job driving and kicking and we made shots. What I could see is (UW) getting open shots and you’re going to have success if you drive and kick and those guys get open shots and knock them down.”
UW has a major experience advantage in the backcourt, and Presutti said it’s important to not let the Tar Heels freshman guard tandem of Caleb Love and Kerwin Walton build any confidence.
“That was our emphasis with them was don’t allow them anything easy because in a game vs. Duke, Love got a couple layups and then all of a sudden he hit (four) 3s,” Presutti said. “And Kerwin Walton, in their actions, he’s looking to shoot every time and every time he gets a shot it looks like it’s going in. It was really important that we did a good job with them on every possession.”
Who does Presutti believe will win between UW and North Carolina? He declined to say, though the Marquette assistant did make a prediction of sorts for what could come next for the winner.
“I just think it’s such a great first-round matchup and no disrespect to Baylor, I truly believe that the winner of the game can beat Baylor,” he said. “I really believe that. And Baylor’s a great team, but I think that really says how good these two programs are in Wisconsin and North Carolina.”
Dairyland dance: 20 players and coaches from Wisconsin in the NCAA tournament
Dairyland dance: 20 players and coaches from Wisconsin in the NCAA men's basketball tournament
TREVOR ANDERSON | WISCONSIN
Anderson, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound senior from Stevens Point, is averaging 3.4 points and 1.3 assists for the Badgers off the bench this season. Named Mr. Basketball and AP Player of the Year as a senior in 2016 after the Panthers repeated as Division 1 champions, Anderson attended UW-Green Bay before transferring to UW, redshirting in 2017-18 and suffering a season-ending knee injury in 2018-19. Ninth-seeded UW opens the tournament 6:10 p.m. Friday against No. 8 North Carolina in the South region.
NATE BUSS | WINTHROP
Buss (above center), a 5-foot-11, 175-pound junior from Verona, has been held scoreless in the brief action he's seen in four games with the Eagles since transferring. No. 12 Winthrop opens the tournament 8:57 p.m. Friday against No. 5 Villanova in the South region.
JONATHAN DAVIS | WISCONSIN
Jonathan Davis, a 6-foot-5, 196-pound freshman from La Crosse, is averaging 7.0 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.1 assists in his first season in Madison alongside his twin brother Jordan. Named Mr. Basketball in 2020, Jonathan Davis is Central’s all-time scoring leader with 2,158 points. Ninth-seeded UW opens the tournament 6:10 p.m. Friday against No. 8 North Carolina in the South region.
JORDAN DAVIS | WISCONSIN
Jordan Davis, a 6-foot-4, 196-pound freshman from La Crosse, is averaging 0.5 points in 11 appearances since joining the Badgers with twin brother Jonathan. Ninth-seeded UW opens the tournament 6:10 p.m. Friday against No. 8 North Carolina in the South region.
CARTER GILMORE | WISCONSIN
Gilmore, a 6-foot-7, 215-pound freshman from Hartland Arrowhead, is a preferred walk-on at UW. Named AP first-team All-State and Classic 8 Conference Player of the Year as a senior in 2020, he is Arrowhead's career scoring leader with 1,565 points. Ninth-seeded UW opens the tournament 6:10 p.m. Friday against No. 8 North Carolina in the South region.
JAMES GRAHAM | MARYLAND
Graham (above right), a 6-foot-8, 205-pound freshman who led Glendale Nicolet to a 22-2 record in 2019-20, left Nicolet to enroll mid-year at Maryland on Dec. 27, 2020, and joined the team immediately. He's played in seven games for the Terrapins, averaging 1.4 points and 1.4 rebounds. Tenth-seeded Maryland opens the tournament 6:10 p.m. Saturday against No. 7 Connecticut in the East region.
JOEY HAUSER | MICHIGAN STATE
Joey Hauser, a 6-foot-9, 220-pound junior from Stevens Point, is averaging 9.7 points and 5.7 rebounds for the Spartans — highlighted by a 27-point effort against UW on Christmas Day — since transferring from Marquette and sitting out the 2019-20 season. Michigan State opens the tournament 8:57 p.m. Thursday against UCLA in a First Four game, with a matchup against No. 6 BYU on the line in the East region.
SAM HAUSER | VIRGINIA
Sam Hauser, a 6-foot-8, 218-pound senior who played at Stevens Point High School, is averaging 16.0 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.8 assists for the Cavaliers this season after transferring from Marquette and redshirting in 2019-20. Fourth-seeded Virginia opens the tournament 6:15 p.m. Saturday against No. 13 Ohio in the West region.
JORDAN McCABE | WEST VIRGINIA
McCabe, a 6-foot, 188-pound junior who earned Mr. Basketball and AP All-State Player of the Year honors at Kaukauna in 2018, is averaging 2.3 points, 1.2 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game this season for the Mountaineers. Third-seeded West Virginia opens the tournament 8:50 p.m. Friday against No. 14 Morehead State in the Midwest region.
JAMARI SIBLEY | GEORGETOWN
Sibley (above left), a 6-foot-8, 200-pound freshman who played high school ball at Glendale Nicolet and then Oak Hill (Va.) Academy, is averaging 1.3 points and 1.0 rebound in 20 appearances for the Hoyas. No. 12 Georgetown opens the tournament 11:15 a.m. Saturday against No. 5 Colorado.
BEN VANDER PLAS | OHIO
Vander Plas, a 6-foot-8, 232-pound senior from Ripon, is averaging 12.8 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists this season, his second as a starter for the Bobcats. No. 13 Ohio opens the tournament 6:15 p.m. Saturday against No. 4 Virginia.
ALONDES WILLIAMS | OKLAHOMA
Williams, a 6-foot-5, 201-pound senior who played high school ball at Milwaukee Riverside, is averaging 6.4 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 22 appearances, including 14 starts, for the Sooners this season. Eighth-seeded Oklahoma opens the tournament 6:25 p.m. Saturday against No. 9 Missouri in the West region.
TONY BENNETT | HEAD COACH | VIRGINIA
Tony Bennett, son of former UW coach Dick Bennett, has won three national coach of the year awards while leading Virginia to a 277-96 record over 12 seasons. Fourth-seeded Virginia opens the tournament 6:15 p.m. Saturday against No. 13 Ohio in the West region.
BRADY ELLINGSON | DIRECTOR OF OPS. | DRAKE
Ellingson, a Sussex Hamilton graduate, played three years at the University of Iowa and earned second-team All-Missouri Valley Conference honors at Drake in 2018-19 before beginning to serve as a video coordinator for the Bulldogs last season. Drake faces Wichita in a First Four game 5:27 p.m. Thursday for the right to face sixth-seeded USC.
GREG GARD | HEAD COACH | WISCONSIN
Gard, a native of Cobb in southern Wisconsin, has compiled a 118-69 record since taking over as Wisconsin’s head coach in 2015. Ninth-seeded UW opens the tournament 6:10 p.m. Friday against No. 8 North Carolina in the South region.
CLAY MOSER | ASSISTANT | ARKANSAS
Moser, who graduated from UW-La Crosse in 1987, has coached in schools at all levels from the USA to China, including in the NBA with Sacramento, Orlando, Cleveland and the Los Angeles Lakers before being hired by Eric Musselman once again, this time with the Razorbacks. Third-seeded Arkansas opens the tournament 11:45 a.m. Friday against No. 14 Colgate.
NATE OATS | HEAD COACH | ALABAMA
Oats, a Watertown native who played Maranatha Baptist Academy High School from 1993-97, is 40-21 since taking over the Crimson Tide program in March 2019. Second-seeded Alabama opens the tournament 3 p.m. Saturday against No. 15 Iona in the East region.
SHAKA SMART | HEAD COACH | TEXAS
Smart, who grew up in the Madison area and was a three-year starter at Oregon High School, is 109-85 since taking over the Texas program in 2015. Third-seeded Texas opens the tournament 8:50 p.m. Saturday against No. 14 Abilene Christian in the East region.
BRAD SODERBERG | ASSISTANT | VIRGINIA
Soderberg, who grew up in Wausau and attended Stevens Point Pacelli High School, is in his fifth season at Virginia. Starting his college playing career at Ripon College before transferring to UW-Stevens Point and playing under Dick Bennett, Soderberg also joined former NBA star and coach Terry Porter to play in the 1984 NAIA national championship game and coached under Bennett at UW from 1995-2001. Fourth-seeded Virginia opens the tournament 6:15 p.m. Saturday against No. 13 Ohio in the West region.
JULIAN SWARTZ | ASSISTANT | GEORGIA TECH
Swartz (above left), a three-time Associated Press All-State player at Waukesha South and 1999 state player of the year, played on UW's 2000 Final Four team but left the program due to issues connected with obsessive-compulsive disorder and earned his degree from Carroll College in 2005. He has been with Georgia Tech since 2016 and has served as an assistant coach since 2018. Ninth-seeded Georgia Tech opens the tournament 3 p.m. Friday against Loyola Chicago in the Midwest region.