NC State men’s basketball will take on Wisconsin at home Wednesday in a nonconference matchup for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
The Wolfpack (5-2) is coming off an 83-78 loss to No. 16 Memphis on Thanksgiving. The team let Memphis get too far ahead in the first half, being outscored 55-39, but failed to complete the comeback in the second half. Wisconsin (4-3) is coming off back-to-back losses in the Legends Classic to unranked Richmond (62-52) and New Mexico (59-50). Both teams are looking for wins to keep their nonconference resumes intact for postseason berths in the future.
Wisconsin has struggled this year due to the losses of seniors Ethan Happ and Khalil Iverson, who were efficient leaders offensively and defensively for the Badgers. 6-foot-11 forward Nate Reuvers has stepped up as a replacement in place of Happ this year, averaging 15.4 points per game and grabbing 5.7 boards as well. Reuvers is a defensive presence as well with 2.6 blocks per game.
Containing Reuvers will be a difficult test for NC State’s 6-foot-11 redshirt freshman forward Manny Bates and 6-foot-10 redshirt junior forward D.J. Funderburk. Bates averages an impressive 3.4 blocks per game and has shown a strong presence in the paint. Bates limiting Reuvers’ production will be crucial in halting Wisconsin’s offense. Bates is also going to need to play perimeter defense, something he hasn’t done often this season, since Reuvers has a decent 3-point shot on top of the inside game.
Another important piece of the Wisconsin team is guard Brad Davison, who is notorious for his five charges against NC State last year. Davison is the second-leading scorer on the team, with 12.1 points per game, and is the best on-ball defender with 1.4 steals per game. Guarding Davison will likely be redshirt senior C.J. Bryce, who should be a challenge for Davison to score on with 1.9 steals per game to lead NC State. If not Davison, Bryce will probably guard Kobe King. The two-player matchup is very important for the outcome. NC State cannot let Davison score in double digits and provide a spark with charging fouls, steals and tough defense, while Wisconsin needs to limit Bryce’s production if it wants to stop NC State’s potent offense.
NC State has not had any trouble scoring this season, averaging 83.6 points per game. Key offensive producers for the Wolfpack are Bryce and senior guard Markell Johnson. Bryce has been the most efficient scorer and, surprisingly, rebounder on the team, with 16.1 points per game and 7.3 rebounds per game. As previously mentioned, Bryce’s matchup with tough defenders in Davison or King could limit his production for the night.
Despite struggling to score at the start of this season, Johnson leads the team in assists with 6.7 dimes per game. Johnson is coming off a 22-point game against Memphis, which was his first 20-point game of the season and his third double-digit scoring game in a row, so we should look to see another efficient scoring night from Johnson. Redshirt junior guard Devon Daniels has also contributed significantly off the bench with 12.7 points per game and 1.7 steals. With Johnson facilitating the offense, Bryce consistently getting buckets, and Daniels producing off the bench, NC State’s fast-paced offense will be too much to handle for Wisconsin’s 68.3 points per game.
The Wolfpack needs to take advantage of the lack of height for Wisconsin, which only has one players over 6-foot-8 with more than 11 minutes of playing time this season. NC State has three players who stand at 6-foot-8 or taller that will play consistently. Playing a post duo of Funderburk and Bates for some time could attack this weakness. The weakness that Wisconsin can take advantage of is the lack of size in the guard position in Johnson at 6-foot-1 and junior guard Braxton Beverly, who stands at 6 feet. We may see more minutes from Daniels if the Badgers do utilize this mismatch.
If NC State hopes to come out victorious against Wisconsin, it needs to avoid half-court offense against the slow-paced Wisconsin team by getting out in transition to get fast-break points and taking advantage of height in the post.
The game will begin at 9:15 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 4 at PNC Arena and will be televised on ESPN2.