PHILADELPHIA -- It’s a classic NCAA Sweet 16 matchup of elite offensive efficiency and outstanding defense, with both teams boasting an ability to thrive in an up-tempo game.
No. 1 seed North Carolina (30-6) has held 27 of its 33 opponents to a field-goal mark of under 45 percent. Fifth-seeded Indiana (27-7) is No. 2 in the nation at 50-percent shooting.
Yogi Ferrell is the engine that drives the Hoosiers’ offensive machine. North Carolina features senior point guard Marcus Paige, a 12-point-per-game scorer.
Ferrell has helped the Hoosiers to a school-record total in 3-pointers made. Paige has guided UNC to the best assist-to-turnover ratio in the history of the program.
“That's not going to be my initial matchup,” Paige said of Ferrell “I think it will be Joel Berry, but I'll spend some time on him throughout the game. Just try to keep him in front of me. He's really explosive and quick and he can also shoot a pretty nice pull-up jumper.
"He's the guy that's talented enough to get his over the course of the game. Just gotta contest everything and keep him out of the paint because he's so good at getting shots for other guys as well that, once he gets in the paint, he causes a lot of problems.”
The Tar Heels’ ability to take good care of the basketball has the potential to limit IU’s knack for creating offense off turnovers.
“Well, you can’t gamble, that’s the main thing,” Ferrell said. “You've got to keep great ball pressure by staying in front of the ball when they’re moving it, stay solid and don’t try and reach, don’t try and get a steal that’s out of your way. You’ve just got to stay solid and try and find openings to where you can get a turnover.”
Indiana coach Tom Crean knows the Hoosiers have their hands full trying to rattle a UNC team that is balanced, deep and filled with veterans.
“I don’t know all the teams like this, but their depth is outstanding. With how many forwards they can go to on the bench, with how they can go to the bench with their guards. There’s a reason they’re so good in the second half. They thrive on that,” Crean said.
Berry helped the ACC regular-season champions to the league tournament title as well with 19 points in the championship game in a win over fellow NCAA Tournament No. 1 seed Virginia.
The Tar Heels boast six players with scoring averages of nine points per game or better, led by projected first-round NBA pick Brice Johnson at 16.8 per game.
Unlike the prolific Hoosiers, the Tar Heels are one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the program’s history. But they’re as efficient as anybody in attacking the basket and taking advantage of their size.
“I think having balance is the best way,” UNC coach Roy Williams said, “but the last game we played was one of the things that sort of solidifies one of the biggest beliefs I have, is that the end of the game I hope that I'm playing against the other team and they don't have all their players on the court because of foul trouble. You don't get teams in foul trouble too much shooting 35 3s in a game.”
The regular-season Big Ten champion Hoosiers are now enjoying the role of underdog in the NCAA Tournament.
“We know obviously that we’re a lower seed and probably a lower seed is always not favored. We know that,” Ferrell said. “We try not to look into that too much. We know how great a team North Carolina is, we know how good their offense is, the way they push the ball, how well they shoot it so we just have to be ready to attack.”
The winner advances to Sunday's regional championship game, when a Final Four berth will be on the line. It would be IU’s first trip to the regional finals since 2002.
“Their speed is enormous. As fast as any team we’ve faced, no doubt about that,” Crean said. “There's no question that decision-making and all-out hustle, you know, with a purpose, getting back, defensively, and then just being really ready to rebound constantly are going to be keys to the game."