Top-seeded Wisconsin will face fourth-seeded North Carolina in the opening game of an NCAA men’s basketball tournament West Regional semifinal doubleheader at Staples Center today.
“That has the potential to be a great, great game,” said Dan Bonner, who will be an analyst on TBS’ telecast of the game set to begin at 4:47 p.m., along with the Arizona-Xavier game, scheduled to start at 7:17 p.m.
“North Carolina is a team that has struggled sometimes this year shooting the basketball, they’ve struggled playing in the half court, but Marcus Paige, their best player, is playing better and when he’s playing better, then they can play in the half court.”
“Wisconsin has to prevent North Carolina from getting out in transition. That’s where North Carolina is absolutely at its best.”
Paige, a 6-foot-1-inch junior guard, is averaging a team-high 14.1 points per game.
The Tar Heels have “to figure out a way to guard Frank Kaminsky,” the Badgers’ 7-foot senior center, who is averaging a team-high 18.4 points per game, Bonner said.
“I’m not sure that anybody has really done that very well because if you spend too much time guarding Frank Kaminsky, then you let the other guys go,” Bonner said.
Kaminsky is “more athletically gifted than people give him credit for,” Bonner said. “He’s worked extremely hard. He has developed a skill set that’s very rare for a person of his size.
“He’s very, very mobile, moves his feet very well, has great hands. He can shoot from the perimeter. He can drive the ball to the basket, He’s an excellent passer and he doesn’t get enough credit for how good he is in the low post.”
Wisconsin (33-3) has the nation’s most efficient offense, according to rankings complied by analyst Ken Pomeroy, averaging 124.9 points per 100 possessions. The Badgers also lead the nation in fewest fouls per game, fewest opposing free throw attempts per game and fewest turnovers per game.
North Carolina (26-11) averages 115.6 points per 100 possessions, 12th in the nation.
The second game matched second-seeded Arizona (33-3) and sixth-seeded Xavier (23-13).
“Arizona is playing as well as anybody in the country,” Bonner said. “If they do not turn the ball over and give Xavier the opportunity to get out the break, I think Arizona will win the game. Xavier is a very capable team. I don’t expect Arizona to run away with it.”
Arizona is seventh in offensive efficiency, averaging 117 points per 100 possessions. Xavier is 21st, averaging 113.1 points.
Arizona coach Sean Miller was Xavier’s coach for five seasons. Xavier is now coached by Chris Mack, an assistant to Miller throughout his tenure with the Musketeers.
The Wildcats have six players who played on the high school level in Los Angeles or Orange counties, including 6-foot-7-inch freshman forward Stanley Johnson, an alumnus of Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, who is averaging a team-high 14 points per game.
“The thing that we’re most proud of him is that he has listened and he’s tried his best to do what we’ve asked,” Miller said. “I think that’s one of the reasons our team has been so successful this year.”
Xavier also has a Southern California product on its roster, 6-foor-2 reserve guard Brandon Randolph, an Inglewood High School alumnus averaging 2.1 points and 9.7 minutes per game.
Today’s winners will meet Saturday with a berth in the Final Four on the line. Wisconsin defeated Arizona, 64-63, in overtime in last year’s West Regional final, which was played in Anaheim.