The North Carolina Tar Heels face the nations #1 ranked team the Indiana Hoosiers in the marquee game of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. This match up will be the biggest challenge of the season for the Tar Heels and the toughest game to date for the Hoosiers. UNC is 5-1 on the year and coming off a third place finish in the Maui Invitational Tournament. Carolina fell to #14 in this weeks rankings after an ugly loss to Butler. The Hoosiers are 6-0 on the season and have perhaps the nations best player in Cody Zeller along with a roster full of scoring threats that is sure to keep UNC on it’s heels.
This will be the first game for both teams against a top 25 opponent and the fifth home game for Indiana who have played just two games away from Bloomington. PJ Hairston is out after suffering a mild sprain to his left knee during a drill in Sunday’s practice. Which would be a big blow for the Tar Heels, Hairston is the teams third leading scorer at 10.8 points per game.
Indiana will be without freshmen Peter Jurkin and Hanner Mosquera-Perea who were suspended by the NCAA for receiving improper benefits while playing on the AAU circuit. While Indiana will be without their freshman they will have no shortage of talent with five players averaging double figures in scoring and plenty of leadership.
Cody vs James Michael: Zeller vs McAdoo in what should be a big time match up against two preseason All-Americans and two of the finest players in the nation. The two stars have similar games as both like to run the floor and get out in transition, can face up as well as post up their defender and have high energy games that will make for an exciting battle.
Both teams rely a lot on their star players but it will not be enough for UNC to win if McAdoo simply cancels out Zeller, he has to out play him for the Tar Heels to win. Indiana has a lot of scoring threats and based on how the Tar Heels defense has played this season against perimeter threats I believe UNC will need McAdoo to outplay Zeller to offset some of those weapons, especially if Hairston is unable to play.
Supporting casts: Seniors Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford average over 26 points per game combined and do all the little things necessary for a big time team. Indiana is deep with nine players averaging over 11 minutes per game and have proven they can win even when Zeller has an off night. For the Heels Reggie Bullock will have to stay aggressive on the offensive end and avoid disappearing for stretches as he has several times already this season. UNC needs Leslie McDonald to provide scoring and defense off the bench with Hairston out. It will be interesting to see if Roy sticks with freshman Brice Johnson in the starting lineup after he replaced sophomore Desmond Hubert in the last game or if he goes with back to Hubert or gives Joel James an opportunity.
By the numbers: This is a much closer statistical battle than one would think going up against the nations top ranked team. Both teams rank in the top ten in the nation in scoring with Indiana having a slight edge 88.7 to 85.3. UNC holds a big advantage in the rebounding department at 46 per game vs Indiana at 41.2 per game with an even bigger advantage on the offensive glass 18.3 vs 11.7.
The Hoosiers are a much better shooting team at 52.5% vs 47.1%, from beyond the arc they hold a 41.4% vs 38.8% advantage and a huge edge at the free throw line 74% vs 58.6%. The Hoosiers have five different players averaging double figures led by Zeller at 15.2 per game against UNC with just three players averaging double digits led by McAdoo at 16.8.
A look at history: This is just the eighth match up between these two historically great teams since 1980 with the Hoosiers taking four of the last seven meetings. The games have been close with the average score IU 72-UNC 71. Indiana leads the all-time series with North Carolina, 7-5.
Prediction: I expect this to be close, Georgetown took this Hoosier team into OT and I don’t think they will roll over the Tar Heels, especially after Roy questioned their toughness. I expect to see UNC come out fired up and to play with high energy but ultimately fall to a team with more experience and firepower in a close game. 78-73 Indiana.