GAME INFO / HOW TO WATCH:
Who? Indiana Hoosiers (27-7 (15-3), #13 KenPom) vs. North Carolina Tar Heels (30-6 (14-4), #3 KenPom)
When? Friday, March 25, 9:57 PM, TBS
Where? Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
Vegas? NORTH CAROLINA +5.5
Pomeroy? NORTH CAROLINA by 5, 34% chance of Indiana victory
HOW SWEET IT IS
Look at that horribly overused phrase to kick-off this game preview. LOOK AT IT. I know that Indiana going to the Sweet Sixteen is an accomplishment that has been sadly devalued by a non-zero portion of the fanbase; because if you take even a moment to enjoy the fact that you've made it closer to a championship than 335 other teams you are accepting mediocrity. These, of course, are the same folks that believe a national championship is some sort of birthright to a program that has ended their year with a banner in less than 5% of the seasons they've attempted to do so.
Nevertheless, there has been a monkey on the program's back during Tom Crean's tenure and it isn't an inability to get past this round, but a lack of tournament victories over a title contenders. Prior to Saturday, Indiana's NCAA tournament wins under Tom Crean have been: New Mexico State, VCU, James Madison, and Temple; with losses to Kentucky, Syracuse, and Wichita State. Two of those teams advanced to the Final Four while all three finished in the KenPom top ten. Forget a victory over a title contender, Tom Crean had yet to beat a Power Five conference team in the NCAA Tournament while at Indiana.
That changed Saturday with a massive victory over Kentucky. Don't let Kentucky fans fool you, much like a basketball player who misses a breakaway layup and then limps for a few minutes to make you think he hurt himself and that caused the miss, UK fans have a proud tradition of tearing their team down as soon as they lose so that opposing fans think they didn't beat anyone.
"Fatally flawed, this team of McDonald's All-Americans and various other 5-star recruits and Player of the Year candidates was. Fatally flawed. Never had a shot at the title."
Kentucky was the 6th best team on KenPom and criminally under-seeded. They were the second-most popular pick to come out of the East region and the top choice of that guy in your bracket pool who refuses to pick a 1-seed to win it all so he goes out on a limb and picks one of the most successful basketball programs of all-time.
What Indiana did was a huge accomplishment, and checks another box on the long list of grievances that some Indiana fans have against their coach. Their reward, because the world is a cruel place, is to beat the only team left in the regional that is definitely better than Indiana. Because the 2, 3, and 4-seeds couldn't hold up their end of the bargain, Indiana is forced to take on UNC for a chance to advance, while 6-seed Notre Dame and 7-seed Wisconsin getting to duke it out for the other spot in the regional final. Wisconsin, at the very least, actually dispatched of 2-seed Xavier themselves, while Notre Dame let Stephen F. Austin do their dirty work.
There's no question about it, a win on Friday night will take Indiana's best performance of the season, and perhaps, of Tom Crean's entire tenure. Let's dig in.
HERE WOULD YOU LIKE SOME FACTORS?
|INDIANA (#8 Adj. Offense)||58.9% (1st)||19.6% (273rd)||37.1% (15th)||33.6% (256th)|
|NORTH CAROLINA (#11 Adj. Defense)||47.2% (61st)||18.5% (147th)||29.9% (183rd)||30.3% (49th)|
|INDIANA (#54 Adj. Defense)||49.4% (142nd)||19.1% (104th)||28.8% (124th)||29.5% (39th)|
|NORTH CAROLINA (#5 Adj. Offense)||52.0% (73rd)||15.4% (25th)||39.9% (4th)||32.1% (288th)
North Carolina is a hard team to poke a lot of holes in. They'll be the best defense, from an efficiency standpoint, that Indiana has faced all year but their individual four factors don't leap off the page. They're DeFG% is hampered by a d3PT% that ranks 223rd in the country but their d2PT% rank of 23rd helps to mitigate. Granted, three-point defense isn't best gleaned from one glance at the percentage of threes a given team has made against them. Marcus Paige brought this up in media availability this week, citing an article from none other than Ken Pomeroy, with the big takeaway being that team's actually have very little control over how many three pointers their opponent makes, and that three point defense is best judged by how many three pointers their opponent takes. North Carolina is 169th in d3PA/dFGA, which isn't an eye-popping figure and will certainly be put to the test by an Indiana team that is 61st in 3PA/FGA, and as you probably know, making them at a 41.6% clip, good for 5th in the nation.
Speaking of the three-point line, North Carolina isn't much for it on offense either. Only eleven teams shoot less threes as a percentage of their total field goal attempts than the Tar Heels and the fact they're only making 31.4% of them (308th in the country) is probably the reason why. Only Joel Berry is hitting more than 35% of his attempts, something that every Indiana regular outside of Troy Williams has done this year (some in far less attempts than others). Paige leads the Tar Heels attempts, but is only hitting 33.0% of them this season, after back to back years of hitting closer to 40%. But when you're making 53.8% of your twos, and those represent 73.4% of the shots you shoot, you're in pretty good shape offensively.
Player of the Year candidate Brice Johnson presents, literally, the largest problem for the Hoosiers. Standing at 6-10, 230 and using more possessions and more shots than anyone else on the team, Indiana's frontcourt can expect their stiffest test yet. Johnson is top-50 in Offensive Rating, eFG%, defensive rebounding%, while also drawing 5.1 fouls per 40 minutes and hitting 77.8% of his free throws. He's also nationally ranked in blocks and steals, in case you were wondering if there's anything he can't do.
And even outside of Johnson, North Carolina still has the services of 6-8 sophomore Justin Jackson, and juniors Isaiah Hicks (6-9) and Kennedy Meeks (6-10) all who have offensive ratings over 110 while chipping in across the stat sheet. Indiana will need all hands on deck, and if Thomas Bryant finds himself in foul trouble for the one millionth game in a row, the Hoosiers will need herculean efforts from the likes of Max Bielfeldt, Juwan Morgan, Collin Hartman and OG Anunoby to keep the game from getting out of hand. Bryant was able to turn it on for the last eight minutes of the game against UK and overwhelm his fellow freshmen opponents, but this UNC frontcourt has been around awhile. Brice Johnson, believe it or not, played (and played well!) against Indiana in Assembly Hall back in the 2012-13 season, which seems a lot longer than three years ago.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH FOR:
- Indiana's 3PT offense (5th 3PT%, 61st 3PA/FGA) vs. UNC's 3PT defense (223rd d3PT%, 169th d3PA/dFGA): I know we just discussed this more in depth above, but I wanted to make sure to touch on the importance of the three-point shot in this game. Indiana made 28.6% of their threes against UK but made up for it by hitting 61.3% of their twos. If the Hoosiers want to get even remotely close to that figure against UNC's frontcourt, they'll need to open up the defense from the outside. Particularly, if Bryant and Bielfeldt can step out and hit the long ball like they did against Purdue, that could make all the difference.
- Brice Johnson vs. the whole dang team: I'm expecting Thomas Bryant to start out on Kennedy Meeks and using basically everyone else on Brice Johnson. Collin Hartman is probably going to be first out of the chute and Juwan Morgan / OG Anunoby waiting in the wings assuming Morgan is healthy. There is no one man on Indiana's team that can stop Brice Johnson, but a collective effort for 40 minutes might mitigate him enough to pull out a victory.
- Juwan Morgan / Robert Johnson vs. these stupid injuries: Tom Crean used the term "iffy" to describe RoJo's ankle on Tuesday, sending shivers down the spine of Hoosiers everywhere. Juwan Morgan looks like he'll give it another go. The unfortunate thing with both injuries is the ability for them to recur at literally any moment. RoJo was merely running across the floor when his ankle gave out and he missed the last 25 minutes against Kentucky. We've seen Morgan's shoulder pop out as he reached back for a deflection. So while we may get both of them to begin the game, there's a pretty good chance we'll have to finish it without them.