Indiana vs. North Carolina (preview)

James Michael McAdoo and 14th-ranked North Carolina invade Assembly Hall tonight. - Andy Lyons

No. 1 Hoosiers, No. 14 UNC set for ACC-Big Ten Challenge showdown

  • North Carolina Tar Heels
  • Current record: 5-1
  • 2011-12 record: 32-6 (14-2 ACC)
  • 2012-13 RPI: 100 (IU is 9)
  • 2012-13 Sagarin: 13 (IU is 6)
  • 2012-13 Pomeroy: 14 (IU is 1)
  • Series: IU leads 7-5
  • Last Meeting: North Carolina 70, Indiana 64 (Dec. 1, 2004)
  • Head Coach: Roy Williams (680-170 overall, 262-69 in 10 years at UNC)
  • TV: 9:30 p.m., Tuesday, ESPN (Dan Shulman, Dick Vitale and Andy Katz)
  • Blog: Tar Heel Blog

At this time a year ago, it was hard to fathom a scenario in which Indiana would play North Carolina and be the favorite. And then the 2011-2012 season happened.

Top-ranked Indiana (6-0) takes the court tonight against No. 14 North Carolina (5-1) in what will be the Hoosiers' toughest test of the season thus far. The game will be televised on ESPN at 9:30 p.m. as part of the annual ACC-Big Ten Challenge, which has been won by the Big Ten the last two seasons.

The Indiana-North Carolina contest is one of three marquee matchups in the event, along with No. 18 North Carolina State traveling to No. 3 Michigan (which precedes IU-UNC at 7 p.m. on ESPN) and No. 2 Duke hosting No. 4 Ohio State.

Indiana -- fresh off a 101-53 thrashing of Ball State on Sunday night -- survived an overtime scare against Georgetown exactly a week ago in its first game against a true quality opponent, but the Hoosiers are in for their biggest test of the young season tonight.

North Carolina was among the best teams in college basketball last season. With the exception of a head-scratching 90-57 loss at Florida State, the Tar Heels lost five games by an average of 5.6 points. If not for Kendall Marshall's fractured wrist, North Carolina, a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, may have made another appearance in the Final Four. Instead, the Tar Heels fell to Kansas in the Elite Eight.

Gone from that team are four players -- Marshall, Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller and Jon Henson - who were selected in the first 17 picks of the 2010 NBA Draft. North Carolina returns just one starter from last season, but the Tar Heels are far from deprived. Coach Roy Williams, who has averaged 27.2 wins per season over his illustrious career, landed back-to-back Top 10 recruiting classes, as rated by Rivals.com, in 2011 and 2012.

James Michael McAdoo (No. 8), P.J. Hairston (No. 13) and Desmond Hubert (No. 140) were big coups in the 2011 class. The Tar Heels added Marcus Paige (No. 34), J.P. Tokoto (No. 45), Brice Johnson (No. 49) and Joel James (No. 65) in 2012.

Dexter Strickland -- the lone returning starter and only senior who plays a significant role -- is back from a torn ACL, which he suffered in mid-January. Also returning is Reggie Bullock, a junior who stepped into a starting role after Strickland's injury.

Tonight's game is the first collegiate road game in a big-time environment for North Carolina's freshmen. (The Heels have played at Long Beach State and at Chaminade.) Strickland told rivals.com that his rookie teammates, "Have no clue what type of atmosphere it's going to be (at Indiana)."

The Tar Heels' only loss of the season was an 82-71 defeat at the hands of Butler in the semifinals of the Maui Classic. North Carolina rebounded with an easy 112-70 win over outclassed Chaminade. Other than Butler, the Heels haven't played an upper-echelon team.

In the first five games of the season, North Carolina's starting five consisted of Hubert, McAdoo, Strickland, Paige and Bullock. Johnson took over a starting spot against Chaminade, sending Hubert to a reserve role. Hairston, Tokoto, James and Leslie McDonald typically see 10 to 15 minutes per game off the bench. However, Hairston (knee injury) has been ruled out of tonight's game, per ESPN.com.

McAdoo, a 6-foot-9 sophomore forward, is North Carolina's best player and one of the country's top talents, averaging 16.8 points and 8.8 rebounds, both of which are team-highs. McAdoo is expected to come off the board quickly in the 2013 NBA Draft, with NBADraft.net projecting him as the fourth overall selection.

Bullock has been a deadeye shooter thus far, connecting on 52 percent of his 3-point tries on his way to 12.7 points per night. Five other Tar Heels average at least seven points, led by Hairston (10.8), McDonald (8.8) and Johnson (8.7). Paige came in hyped as a Marshall-type, passing point guard, but he has 20 assists and 19 turnovers to go with 7.3 points per game.

Tom Crean Press Conference - Nov. 26, 2012 (via IUAthletics)

All signs point to this game being played at a Usain-Bolt-like pace. Indiana is No. 1 in adjusted offense, according to kenpom.com. Both Indiana (88.7) and North Carolina (85.3) are in the top 10 in points per game. North Carolina, renowned for its primary and secondary breaks, is 24th in adjusted offense and eighth in adjusted tempo.

Indiana puts up points with efficient shooting while the Heels beat teams up on the glass.

The Hoosiers have won the rebounding battle in all six of their games, but the Tar Heels will challenge Indiana on the boards. North Carolina pulls down 46.0 rebounds per game, which is fifth in the nation. The Heels really get after it on the offensive glass, where their 18.3 offensive rebounds per game rank second nationally. North Carolina's rebounding prowess leads to 71.2 shots per game, the most in the nation and nearly 17 more attempts per game than Indiana (54.3).

With Hanner Perea, Peter Jurkin and Derek Elston sidelined, the Hoosiers will need everyone to chip in on the boards -- in addition to Watford and Zeller staying out of foul trouble.

Indiana's offense has been as good as advertised. The Hoosiers are hitting 52.5 percent of their shots, including a stellar 41-percent mark from beyond the arc. Indiana leads the nation in free throw attempts per game (32) and made free throws per game (23.7, 74 percent). The Hoosiers average nearly 90 points while shooting just 54.3 times per game, the fewest shot attempts of any team in the top 15 in points per game.

Indiana has shot 42.8 percent from 3-point range since the beginning of the 2011-12 season, the highest mark in the nation during that time frame.

Cody Zeller, who nearly ended up at North Carolina, leads the way for Indiana. Zeller is scoring 15.8 points to spearhead a Hoosier attack that places five guys in double figures. Zeller is shooting 64 percent from the field and pulling down 7.7 rebounds. The only blemish for The Big Handsome is a 61-percent clip from the free throw line a year after hitting 75 percent of his charity tosses.

Christian Watford (13.2), Jordy Hulls (13.0), Victor Oladipo (11.0) and Will Sheehey (10.7) also score in double figures, with Sheehey doing his damage as the Hoosiers' sixth man. Watford leads the team in rebounding (8.0) while Oladipo adds 5.2 rebounds and a team-best 2.5 steals per game. Hulls is 19 for 35 (57 percent) from the 3-point line, and he has 23 assists to just five turnovers.

Yogi Ferrell has hit the ground running (literally) as a freshman point guard, totaling 29 assists to 11 turnovers. Prior to the season, some worried how a Ferrell-Hulls backcourt would play together. So far, so good as the duo has combined for 52 assists to just 16 turnovers.

Remy Abell (7.8 points), Jeremy Hollowell (6.5 points) and Maurice Creek (5 of 11 from deep) see at least 10 minutes per night. Abell is shooting 72 percent from the field, 87 percent on free throws and 87 percent (7 for 8) from 3-point land.

The Hoosiers' offense has been great, but that was expected. Most of the questions surrounding Indiana revolved around the team's defense. The Hoosiers are ranked seventh in adjusted defense, but Indiana hasn't faced an offense anywhere near as potent as North Carolina.

No disrespect to Georgetown -- a team which was vastly underrated and a sure-fire NCAA Tournament squad, in my opinion -- but this season, one of the most-anticipated in the history of Indiana basketball, really gets going tonight.

In the words of Bart Scott, can't wait.

Note: Here's a link to Ken Pomeroy's breakdown of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

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