The North Carolina Tar Heels will beat the Indiana Hoosiers in tonight's matchup of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
No. 1-ranked Indiana has been on a tear this season, winning all six of its games to stay at the top in college basketball. No. 14-ranked UNC will fight back with its 5-1 record, after losing only to the Butler Bulldogs.
The Hoosiers have been supported by their stellar offense this season, ranking third in college basketball with 88.7 points per game. This is also supported by their field-goal percentage, ranked seventh at .525.
Without a doubt, in order to beat the Hoosiers, North Carolina will have to come prepared to play good defense.
The Tar Heels have been supported by a combination of offense and defense this season—both have been impressive thus far. They rank 10th with 85.3 points per game, and that includes a .471 field-goal percentage which ranks a mediocre 65th.
UNC also ranks seventh overall in assists with 19.2 per game, in addition to a stellar rebounding effort which ranks fifth with 46 per game.
Add this all up, and the Tar Heels are right behind No. 1 Indiana.
Tonight's game will be much closer than many have predicted.
Hoosiers forward Cody Zeller said that the best way to beat UNC is to slow down its offense (via the Post-Tribune):
We just have to slow down their offense, and then once we get the ball, we want to push it up. I think it will be a fast-paced game, but we can’t let them score as quickly as they want to on offense.
UNC has been pretty dominant on offense this season, with its only loss coming because of its lowest offensive output (71).
If this team scores more than 80 to 85 points, it can win every game.
Also consider that both Indiana and UNC have only played one ranked opponent between the two of them. Indiana won against No. 20 Georgetown, 82-72, but the team was unranked at the time.
It will be interesting to see how Indiana will handle itself against No. 14 UNC.
It is likely that UNC's third-leading scorer, P.J. Hairston, will be out with a sprained left knee. That doesn't mean there still isn't plenty to defend against for Indiana.
Indiana coach Tom Crean said that defense will have to pave the way to a Hoosiers win tonight (via the Post-Tribune):
It is never over with their break. If they don’t score quick, if they don’t get a layup or an open 3-pointer, you have to really be able to guard against the second shot because James Michael McAdoo is the trailer with a full head of steam.
Indiana is one of the best home teams in the country, winning 22 out of its last 23 games at Assembly Hall.
It might also be useful to know that the Tar Heels are 2-3 on the road in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Combine all this together, and you'd think the Hoosiers would stroll off of their home court with a big win, cementing their place as the current No. 1.
But not this time.
UNC will pull off the upset, and it will be due to a stellar defense and a consistent offense that has held it up this season.
The Hoosiers had their run—now it's time to play some higher-ranked opponents.