IU Coach Tom Crean is not worried about the quick two-day turnaround between Sunday’s 101-53 dismantling of Ball State and today’s tilt against No. 14 North Carolina.
“We’re playing North Carolina,” Crean said. “That takes care of itself.”
As with IU hoops, North Carolina basketball tends to speak for itself. The Tarheels boast decades of history, a pair of championships under current Coach Roy Williams and a 5-1 record this season as they enter Assembly Hall at 9:30 p.m. today as the first ranked foe to face the Hoosiers this season.
All of that matters little to sophomore forward Cody Zeller.
“We attack every game the same, we game plan the same, we do the scouting reports the same every game,” Zeller said. “We will come out the same way whether we are playing Ball State or North Carolina. Our coaching staff does a really nice job of preparing us the same way no matter who we are playing.”
Still, this is a different breed of opponent from the crowd of mostly mid-major opponents IU has faced thus far, and nowhere will that be more evident than on the UNC fastbreak offense, Crean said, speaking from personal experience.
“Their transition is second to none. It really is,” Crean said. “It always is with Roy Williams teams. We saw it firsthand when we were at Marquette and he was at Kansas and we made the Final Four. As hard as we prepared for it, it was unlike anything we had seen. I think that’s the way they are right now.”
Both Crean and Zeller pointed to the simple relentlessness of the Tarheels’ fastbreak, a hallmark of Williams’ teams that often sees players set up for long range jump shots off of breaks, not just the standard layups and dunks.
“They want to get out and push the ball up the court whether it’s a miss or a make,” Zeller said. “Off turnovers, they score and score quickly. It’s going to be a big part of our game, and we’re going to have to get back on defense, and we can’t turn it over. We know they like to run, so that’s definitely something we’re going to have to pay attention to. We have to slow them down a little bit.”
Given the up-tempo tendencies of both squads, though, a speedy game up and down the court seems inevitable.
Zeller was careful to say “slow,” not “stop,” regarding his team’s plan against North Carolina and its star sophomore forward, James Michael McAdoo.
McAdoo, who leads UNC in scoring with 16.8 points and 8.8 rebounds, is typically the start of the team’s fastbreak, and at times, the finish of them, as well.
“McAdoo is unlike anything we’ve seen with his ability to rebound on the break,” Crean said. “They are not only a transition team but a transition rebounding team, and McAdoo leads the way with that.
“It’s never over. It’s never over. If they don’t score quick, if they don’t lay it with an open three, you have to guard against the second shot, because McAdoo is the trailer with a full head of steam.”
As with the North Carolina fastbreak, Crean said McAdoo’s danger lies in his versatility, and close, man-to-man defense on him is key.
“You’ve got to have a body on him,” Crean said. “He can’t fly around untouched, because he can score in the perimeter. Obviously, he can score in the block. He can drive the ball. He is a high high-level player.”
Having a solid supply of players to guard McAdoo could be an issue, though, Crean said. Freshmen forward Hanner Mosquera-Perea and center Peter Jurkin continue to serve nine game suspensions, while senior forward Derek Elston is still out with a torn meniscus.
“We’re going to give up size for a while,” Crean said. “We’ve got guys who have a lot of size and length who aren’t playing for us right now. We’re definitely going to give up that size, but as we remind ourselves, they’re going to have to guard us, too. They’ve got to guard us on the other side, too, so what we give up in size on one end, we need to take advantage of on the other end.”
Word broke Monday that UNC will be hampered by an injury of its own.
Guard P.J. Hairston, the team’s third-leading scorer with 10.8 points per contest, will not make the trip due to a sprained left knee.
Crean and his team need only look right up the highway for a blueprint on how to beat the Tarheels. UNC’s only loss of the season came a week ago in Maui as they were unable to come back from a substantial early deficit and fell to Butler 82-71.
“Butler got off to a great start,” Crean said. “They were very physical with them. They made shots and they did a really good job in transition.
“The other thing that Carolina is, and I think Coach Williams has always been this way, is it’s truly never over ’til it’s over. They are one of the great teams at coming back. The pressure is phenomenal. I thought their full-court pressure really bothered Butler in the second half, and we can learn from that.”