The Tar Heels are off to the programs best start since 2008-09 when Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson and co. cut down the nets in Detroit. While, it is a little soon to completely buy into the Carolina national championship hype, it cannot be overlooked how well this team has played to start the season. After passing the test in Maui, the Tar Heels will now have to face an Indiana team not far removed from the embarrassment of a loss in Fort Wayne.
Here are three things to watch:
It is no secret that under Tom Crean Indiana has made a living from behind the three-point line. The Hoosiers shoot 39.8% from long range as a team. Defending the three-point line will be absolutely paramount if Carolina is going to win in Bloomington. Similar to how well Duke shoots at home, the Hoosiers have been known to put up some ridiculous shooting numbers at Assembly Hall. Currently, the Tar Heels are allowing their opponents to shoot just over 31% from beyond the arc—a respectable percentage but something that they’ll need to be on top of Wednesday evening.
When the two met this past March in the Sweet 16 the Hoosiers connected on 13 of 31 threes, while the Tar Heels were able to counter with 11 of their own—most notably six coming from the since departed Marcus Paige. Carolina was able to get by mainly due to their overall defensive performance holding the Hoosiers to 40% on shots within the the arc.
The Tar Heels currently rank seventh in Ken Pom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric, which bodes well to the type of success they could have against an Indiana team that ranks eleventh in Kem Pom’s adjusted offensive officiency metric. Undoubtedly, Indiana will make their share of threes, but UNC is well equipped to defend the Hoosiers.
Containing James Blackmon Jr.
Indiana was one of the most high-powered offense in the nation a year ago. Most of that was done without the services of do-everything guard James Blackmon Jr., who was lost for the season in November do to a knee injury. Since returning to form the junior has led the Hoosiers in scoring with 20.5 points per game. Blackmon also is shooting a ridiculous 52% and nearly 47% clip from the field and three-point range, respectively. If that isn’t enough to convince you of how strong of a player the Marion, Indiana native standing at 6’4” is the teams second leading rebounder with seven boards a contest.
Carolina will likely throw a combination of Joel Berry, Kenny Williams, and Nate Britt at Blackmon throughout the night. The more bodies thrown at him could lead to wearing down the Hoosier standout and asking ancillary players on the team to beat the Tar Heels. Either way, great players like Blackmon get theirs and I can assure you that he’s going to get his no matter what Roy and Carolina throws at him.
How does Carolina handle the road environment
Although, this isn’t the first road trip for the team, having already made trips to Tulane and Hawaii, this will absolutely be the biggest road test of the early season. Last season, the Tar Heels had their struggles on the road, dropping contest to the majority of Top 25 foes. Aside, from the win at Duke, UNC went winless against Top 25 opponents on the road. In order to compete for a one-seed and beyond, Carolina will need to pad their resume with quality road wins starting off with the game Wednesday night in Bloomington.