A little over 32 years since these two teams last met in the NCAA Tournament and almost 35 years since they met to play the national title game in Philadelphia, UNC and Indiana take the floor in the 2016 NCAA East Regional Semifinals. Here are the focal points.
Will Indiana run with UNC?
The prevailing wisdom is Indiana is more than willing to engage in an up and down game with the Tar Heels. For the season Indiana's tempo is just 69.2, 152nd nationally and sixth in B1G play at 67.2. However this is also one of the few teams in college basketball that have a points per game average on par or better than UNC's. Indiana has the athletes and a stellar point guard in Yogi Ferrell to engage in a transition game with the Tar Heels. Add the Hoosiers' three point shooting prowess to the mix, you get an Indiana team that will certainly test UNC's improved defense.
On the flip side, running with UNC is often consider one of the classic blunders in college basketball. The first is never expect to get a positive officiating call in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Only slightly less well know is never run with UNC in the NCAA Tournament. Under Roy Williams, UNC is 16-4 in the NCAA Tournament in regulation games over 70 possessions. Three of those losses came versus Kansas in 2008, 2012 and 2013 with the fourth versus Iowa State in 2014. In other words unless UNC is facing Roy Williams' personal kryptonite(Kansas) or Marcus Paige's(any team from Iowa) the Tar Heels have done pretty well in up-tempo games in March.
If this game turns into an up-tempo, open court affair, Nate Britt could end up being a factor. These types of games are right in the reserve guard's wheelhouse. UNC's ability to bring another ball handler off the bench who can push the tempo really keeps the pressure on an opposing defense if the said opposing team has decided to push the pace. Britt's quickness in an open court game and his ability to go coast-to-coast could be a difference maker in what may very well be a tight game.
The Turnover Battle
If this game is going to be played at UNC's preferred tempo, forcing turnovers could speed it up even more. At present and barring something really bizarre happening, the 2016 team will be Roy Williams' best team at UNC in terms of turnover rate. The Tar Heels check in with a cool 15.4 TO% which beats the 2012 Tar Heels as the best rate in the Roy Williams era. Indiana on the other hand is in the low 200s nationally in turnover rate at 19.6 and was 14th in the B1G with 19.1 in league games .On the defensive end, UNC has been average in forcing turnovers with a defensive turnover rate of 18.5 while Indiana is slightly better at 19.1.
The main target for forcing Indiana turnovers will be Troy Williams who leads the team in usage but also has a personal TO% of 22.5. Guard Robert Johnson also is over 22% in turnover rate while Ferrell is a respectable 17.1 given his responsibilities as the team's primary ball handler. Given Indiana can establish a high level of offensive efficiency with three point shots, turnovers can cut into that and also open up transition chances for UNC on the other end.
The Washington, D.C. Defense
The history of UNC's defense this season has been a roller coaster. Early on the defense looked solid and there were tremendous efforts on that end versus the likes of Davidson but also low points like giving up an offensive efficiency of 129.0 to Texas in the very next game. At one point, during Kennedy Meeks' absence from the lineup, UNC's defensive efficiency ranking dropped as low as the 60s and with an average over 97. Since then there has been a slow climb up with a few sudden boosts along the way. Heading into the second Duke game, UNC's defensive efficiency was 40th nationally. It jumped to 25th after UNC held Duke high powered offense in check then slipped to 30th following the ACC Quarterfinal win over Pitt. After demolishing Notre Dame, it jumped to 16th and with wins over Virginia, FGCU and Providence, UNC is now just outside the top ten at 12th with a defensive efficiency just under 94. The Tar Heels have held four straight teams under 100 in offensive efficiency including two teams that were at 119 or better on the season(Notre Dame and Virginia.)
Seeing that UNC is facing another high efficient offensive team and one that operates similar to what Duke does in terms of points distribution, UNC's defense need to operate as it did in D.C. Based on the numbers, UNC can probably hit its goals offensively. The question is how much can UNC's newly discovered stinginess on the defensive end slow Indiana down. Answering that question starts with who is guarding Yogi Ferrell. Joel Berry will probably draw the initial assignment but I would expect Roy Williams to throw multiple players at him with Marcus Paige, Nate Britt and maybe even Theo Pinson taking turns on the Hoosier point guard.
32 years ago UNC forced Indiana into 17 turnovers but allowed the Hoosier point guard Steve Alford to score 27 points and the Indiana team to shoot 65%. If the Tar Heels would like to avoid a repeat of history,converting turnovers into points, slowing down Indiana's backcourt and playing solid defense will be the key to doing that.
UNC 88 Indiana 81