Key Matchups Loom Large in UNC-Indiana Battle

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 25th, 2016

During a postgame interview after Indiana’s tough win over Kentucky, Indiana head coach Tom Crean said that he “didn’t want to stop coaching this team.” His sentiment makes sense. Crean has a fun and talented team, led by one of the best players in Hoosiers history. But while Yogi Ferrell played his heart out (18 points, five rebounds, four assists) against Tyler Ulis and the Wildcats, he can’t do it by himself against North Carolina. The Hoosiers should be in good shape on the offensive end, especially if freshman Thomas Bryant continues to stay out of foul trouble; however, expect Indiana to be challenged in different ways by the Tar Heels. For Crean to get his wish and continue coaching this team, the Hoosiers will have figure out the answers to tonight’s following matchups.

Tom Crean's defense will have its work cut out against Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige in the Sweet 16 round. (Getty)

Tom Crean’s defense will have its work cut out against Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige in the Sweet Sixteen. (Photo: Getty)

  • Brice Johnson vs. Troy Williams or Thomas Bryant. Johnson has been arguably the best forward in the country over the course of a season in which he averaged 16.8 PPG and 10.5 RPG. His athleticism around the rim will definitely demand double-teams from the Hoosiers’ defense. Indiana’s help defense against Kentucky’s big men was successful because neither Alex Poythress nor Marcus Lee are comfortable with their backs to the basket; Johnson, however, has the exact opposite skill set. Bryant has the weight to push Johnson away from the paint but the Tar Heels big man could run circles around him if he chooses to face the basket. Williams, on the other hand, has the wingspan to defend Johnson but will be susceptible to picking up easy fouls against him. Those would hurt the Hoosiers considerably on the other end of the floor. Even if they end up letting Johnson get his 20 points in the paint, protecting the defensive glass is paramount. It will not be a close contest if Johnson ends up with multiple second chances on the offensive end.

  • Marcus Paige vs. Yogi Ferrell or Robert Johnson. Ferrell and the rest of the Indiana guards couldn’t prevent Ulis from attacking the basket last weekend, as the Kentucky floor general went off for 27 points. The best defense against Ulis may have been forcing him to play defense, and Ferrell responded with a terrific game in his own right. Paige, however, will pose a different type of problem for Indiana. He is a streaky shooter from beyond the arc, shooting only 33 percent this season. He is due for a big game in the NCAA Tournament and it would not surprise anyone to see him break out of his recent slump tonight (5-of-19 3FG in the last three games). Johnson is an excellent perimeter defender but may not be at 100 percent after spraining his ankle against Kentucky. Using Ferrell to defend Paige throughout the game may not be the best strategy, however, because the Hoosiers will need their point guard to be fresh on the offensive end of the floor. The pick-and-roll play with Paige and Johnson will create mismatches because Bryant and Williams aren’t comfortable switching off screens. Roy Williams should look no further than the Michigan State – Indiana game from early March to evaluate the the Hoosiers’ weakness against a good point guard/power forward combination. Denzel Valentine (30 points, 13 assists) and Matt Costello (22 points) feasted off those screens, which will undoubtedly be a sizable part of the recipe for the Tar Heels’ success as well.

Containing both Johnson and Paige would lead to a favorable result for the Hoosiers but it is not realistic to expect both players to be fully neutralized. Crean will have to choose where to focus his defensive capital. Paige breaking out from beyond the arc will infuse extra energy into the Tar Heels’ offense, so it may be a good bet to keep him in check while allowing Johnson get his 20 points in the paint. No matter how you look at it, though, Friday night will be a very tough test for the Hoosiers.

Deepak Jayanti (270 Posts)

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