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<p>North Carolina center Armando Bacot. (Maggie Hobson/UNC Athletics)</p>
North Carolina center Armando Bacot. (Maggie Hobson/UNC Athletics)

Indiana Basketball Film Breakdown: What a slumping North Carolina squad brings to the table

UNC has been disappointing thus far, but the Hoosiers still face a very strong team on Wednesday

What was once seen as a potential top-10 clash between Indiana and North Carolina now has less buzz going into Wednesday. Last year’s national runner-up took two losses in the Phil Knight Invitational last week, which dropped the Tar Heels from first to 18th in the AP poll.

Despite UNC entering at 5-2, this is still an important game between two ranked teams in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. IU will be looking to stay undefeated and potentially boost its ranking, so let’s turn to the tape to see what’s wrong with North Carolina — and what awaits the Hoosiers on Wednesday night. 


Hubert Davis took over as North Carolina’s head coach last year and made major changes to the offense. 

In 18 years as UNC’s head coach, Roy Williams’ teams were top-25 in the nation in offensive rebound rate 17 times. One of Davis' first moves to begin his tenure was bringing in Oklahoma transfer Brady Manek. Manek wasn’t a great rebounder at the power forward spot, but he was an excellent shooter. Davis is looking to replicate that this year by bringing in Pete Nance, who made 45.2% of his 3s at Northwestern last year.

This change decreases the number of second-chance opportunities for the Tar Heels while increasing spacing and 3-point attempts. This is displayed in UNC’s pick-and-roll game, where the team uses off-ball actions while the big man, Armando Bacot, rolls to the rim.

These plays create quite a dilemma for opposing defenses. Teams can either pinch in and help on the rolling Bacot or chase North Carolina’s shooters around, hoping the two main defenders can contain the ball screen. When the Tar Heels run these plays with purpose, it is hard to account for everyone on the floor.

Bacot himself is a potent post player. Like IU’s Trayce Jackson-Davis (and many talented big men across the country), Bacot returned to school for his senior year, looking to leave a substantial mark at his school. He uses supreme strength and toughness to score on the low block.

The key may be for Indiana to comfortably place Jackson-Davis on an island with Bacot. Jackson-Davis will have to refrain from fouling Bacot, who is shooting 8.7 free throws per game. If Jackson-Davis can hold his own against his off-court pal, it will allow the rest of the Hoosiers to stay on their man without having to make rotations.

The Tar Heels, who aren’t a deep team, have one of the more interesting backcourts in college basketball. RJ Davis and Caleb Love make an extremely confident guard pairing. Despite Bacot being the team’s clear best player, Love is taking the most field goals on the team for the third consecutive season.

Love and Davis love to shoot (particularly from deep) even when it may not be best for the team. But when these guys get hot, watch out. Both players are fairly capable of draining difficult pull-up jump shots.

Both guards made about 36% of their 3s last year, which was impressive given the degree of difficulty. So far this season, North Carolina is enduring the consequences of what happens when those shots don’t drop. Love has made 24.5% of his 3s on seven attempts per game. Davis is at 27.8% on 5.1 long-range attempts per game. 

North Carolina is only shooting 30.8% from deep this season, and much of that is due to the backcourt’s woes. Love and Davis need to make their jumpers for this UNC team to have success. And until they regain their rhythm, they should stop attempting difficult shots. The first eight or so minutes on Wednesday should tell us a lot about the offensive mindset of the Heels.

Even when North Carolina shoots well, the main thing holding this offense back is the lack of adequate playmakers. Most players in UNC’s usual eight-man rotation are below-average passers for their position. 

The absence of quality passers was exposed in the Tar Heels’ loss to Iowa State last Friday, as Iowa State flustered North Carolina by constantly trapping ball screens.

North Carolina’s players seldom convert on passes that aren’t wide open and/or directly in the line of sight of the ball handler. Iowa State forced the Tar Heels to become a pass-first team and UNC failed to move the ball effectively. While Indiana rarely blitzes screens with the aggressiveness that Iowa State did, the Hoosiers could utilize hard hedges to give North Carolina similar fits.

Despite some warts, this is still a very skilled North Carolina offense. Offense is the strong suit of the Heels, meaning Indiana will have its hands full trying to stop this team on Wednesday.


Now to the defensive end, which has been inconsistent for North Carolina over the past two seasons.

The star of this UNC defense is forward Leaky Black. Appropriately nicknamed “Lockdown Leaky,” Black uses his strength and long frame to disrupt ball handlers. 

Black is the starting small forward for North Carolina, and it wouldn’t make much sense to deploy him on Indiana’s Miller Kopp, who has limited on-ball responsibilities. Expect to see Black guarding either Xavier Johnson or Jalen Hood-Schifino, the two primary ball handlers on this Indiana roster. Black’s assignment will have their work cut out for them on Wednesday night.

The rest of UNC’s defense is questionable.

Let’s start with the Tar Heels’ ball-screen coverage. When Bacot is the defending big, he typically plays in a drop. Bacot drops below the screen while the guard recovers to the ball handler. The goal is to keep the ball handler in front while not letting the big man slip behind the dropping Bacot.

Bacot has had mixed results playing drop coverage this year, and sometimes North Carolina’s small guards struggle to overcome screens.

In general, Bacot is a suspect rim protector. He’s a poor stationary leaper and isn’t great at recovering. Center is the most vital defensive position, and sometimes Bacot struggles to make plays from that spot.

Bacot isn’t always exposable when defending. He has bright moments when he puts himself in the right spots (and when his guards do their job). Bacot’s lack of quickness and pop minimize the mistakes he can make on defense.

On Sunday against Alabama, Bacot suffered an ankle injury that forced Nance to play center down the stretch. The Tar Heels were more willing to switch with Nance at center. Nance defended Alabama’s guard pretty well, although the lack of a rim protector behind him hurt.

North Carolina may refrain from switching against a dominant post threat like Jackson-Davis. If Bacot can’t play Wednesday (or plays limited minutes), the ball-screen coverage for UNC could completely shift.

Away from the ball, North Carolina has blundered this season. The Heels allowed 21 combined made 3s in back-to-back days last week. Some of it was bizarre shooting luck, but a lot of it was due to defensive miscues off the ball.

Luckily for North Carolina, Indiana lacks skilled off-ball shooters. Whether by jump shots or timely cuts, the Hoosiers should look to expose UNC’s weak off-ball defense.

It’s a mystery how the Heels will want to defend Jackson-Davis in the post. It’s been nearly a year since North Carolina has faced a low-post threat similar to Jackson-Davis, so who knows how they will try to guard him. 

If I had to guess, I think North Carolina will attempt to show late help and double teams instead of bombarding him with instant traps. Because of Jackson-Davis’ growth as a passer, teams might be less willing to send harsh double teams his way.

North Carolina’s defense performed well en route to a National Championship appearance last year, but it’s looked vulnerable thus far in 2022-23. The Tar Heels aren’t terribly long or athletic which causes problems defensively. UNC rarely forces turnovers meaning the team must play nearly perfect defense. 

The margin for error for North Carolina on defense is minuscule, and IU can score against this team by using its weaknesses against them.


No matter what numbers appear next to the name of these teams, this remains a big-time battle that both sides will be hungry to win. Indiana will rightfully enter as the favorite, but North Carolina is still a talented team.

Defensively, the Hoosiers can’t let the Tar Heels catch fire from downtown. North Carolina has some shaky inside-the-arc scorers, so IU should run them off the line to begin the game. 

Indiana must also stay prepared and principled when guarding UNC’s ball screens. North Carolina likes to run simultaneous actions to distract help defenders, so IU can’t get duped on these plays.

When Indiana has the ball, there will be areas of North Carolina’s defense to attack. IU should apply lots of off-ball movement and force UNC to defend it properly. 

The Hoosiers should also not be frightened to go to the basket and finish with force, especially if Bacot is nursing an injury. As long as IU makes a few jump shots and plays with flow, I expect a quality showing offensively on Wednesday.

Now that Indiana has expectations, the team is supposed to win games like this. North Carolina is coming off back-to-back losses, one of which was in quadruple overtime on Sunday against Alabama. The team flew straight from the Phil Knight Invitational in Portland to Indianapolis, meaning it’s been over a week since the Heels were in Chapel Hill sleeping in their own beds.

Given the tough stretch away from home for North Carolina, Indiana needs to pounce on UNC early. The Hoosiers should be capable of handling their business in front of a lively Assembly Hall crowd.

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