PHILADELPHIA, Pa. – With all the history involved in an Indiana-North Carolina tournament matchup in Philadelphia, Roy Williams' Tar Heels would rather focus on the now.
"Kids are in today's times," said Williams. "If I tell them I had black hair in 1981, they'd think it's when the rocks cooled."
UNC is not concerned with their loss to the Hoosiers in Philly back in '81, but rather the daunting task of beating them as the East Region's top seed this year. Indiana, the East's five seed, has caught fire this March, and behind guard Yogi Ferrell, poses a big challenge to Williams' side.
"I'm talking to them about this team, this year, how they played, how they've gotten better, how they need to get better," said the coach. "If you get to the Sweet 16, the other team is pretty doggone good. We've got to try to play a complete game."
Tar Heels A Tough Opponent With Immense Depth
This year's Tar Heels have played complete basketball this far into their 2015-16 campaign, and led by Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson, this team looks to continue that in powering past the Hoosiers.
North Carolina is deep this year, with six scorers averaging at least nine points per game, and Indiana coach Tom Crean knows it. "They don't put anybody out on the court that can't defend at a high level or score at a high level," he said at his Thursday press conference.
Brice Johnson, specifically, has been on a tear for the Heels, and he'll face a very worthy matchup in Thomas Bryant in the frontcourt. Both players acknowledge their counterpart's strengths: "Brice Johnson is a great athlete, gets out there in transition and carves out space in the low block. So does [Kennedy] Meeks," said Bryant. Johnson said of Bryant that "He's a really good player. You just have to challenge him to his weaknesses and not let him get to his strengths."
The Ferrell-Paige Matchup
Yogi Ferrell is this game's obvious impact player for Indiana. Ferrell has been phenomenal at the point for coach Crean this year, and after handling the task of Kentucky's Tyler Ulis last weekend, he is poised to do the same against UNC's Paige.
"He's always been a good point guard, good lead guard, great passer. But this year and last year, to some extent, he's become a really, really good scorer," said Paige. "He's expanded his game to become a complete guard. That's why he's having an All-American season."
In terms of Yogi's approach to guarding Paige, he seems to have already done the necessary preparations. "Well, can't let him catch the ball. When he catches the ball, anything can happen for his team. He can dish it off to anybody. Score at will. Can shoot it from NBA range. So the main thing with him is you limit a guy's touches, you limit a guy's attempts."
Ferrell's impact as a distributor and scorer has been felt the first two rounds of this year's big dance, and the senior's high production will be a must if the Hoosiers want to upset the Tar Heels. North Carolina has an extremely balanced D, and they have plans for everyone to pitch in guarding Ferrell in the backcourt.
"Everybody on the perimeter knows they're going to have to guard Yogi, know they're going to have to guard Troy," said Roy Williams. "Find out as much as you can about those guys. But we'll make the matchups in the locker room before the game."
In this game full of future NBA draftees and award winners, it's not about the individual accomplishments or accolades. It's about the team and which side wants it more. Ferrell added that "Individual accomplishments are going to come with winning."
Tipoff is Friday night after the Wisconsin-Notre Dame game at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, and it'll be a historic matchup between these two elite college basketball programs; so stay tuned for some more March Madness mania.