Positional distinctions don’t always truly determine matchups in basketball. The player you guard on one end of the court may not defend you on the other. Screens sometimes require switching, and sometimes the matchups are such that man-to-man defense gets ditched for zone looks.
Even so, games so often come down to matchups, and one man trying to stop the other from scoring. With that in mind, this is how the matchups appear to shakeout for Indiana’s clash with North Carolina in Tuesday’s showdown of bluebloods.
Yogi Ferrell (6-0, 165, Fr.) vs. Marcus Paige (6-0, 157, Fr.)
Paige and Ferrell were two of the three highest rated point guards in the Class of 2012 along with Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart, and they’re perhaps the biggest reason IU assistant coach Tim Buckley joked that fans “might need a neckbrace” to keep up with the speed of tonight’s game. Both can fly up the court and have outstanding court vision. Their styles fit the rest of their squads, which already like to play uptempo. Both have showed freshmen vulnerabilities, however. Ferrell leads Indiana with 29 assists in just six games, but also has 11 turnovers and is shooting just 27.6 percent from the field. Paige is shooting better (37.5 percent) but certainly not lights out, and his 20 assists are countered by 19 turnovers. Regardless, this should be an electric matchup.
Jordan Hulls (6-0, 182, Sr.) vs. Dexter Strickland (6-3, 180, Sr.)
This matchup is interesting because Hulls and Strickland are in some ways similar but in others starkly different. Both are capable point guards who will handle the ball at times even when their respective point guards are in the game, and will run the offense when Ferrell and Paige take a seat. Both are very efficient and smart with the basketball. Strickland has 21 assists to just five turnovers so far and Hulls is just slightly better with 23 assists to five turnovers. But from there, their paths diverge. Strickland is known as a lock-down man-to-man defender, but not nearly as much of a scorer. He can get to the hole on occasion, but he’s shooting 38.6 percent from the field and has made just one of eight 3-point attempts. Though Hulls is a very intelligent defender, especially off the ball, he sometimes struggles to keep bigger, stronger and quicker guards in front of him. However, he’s also one of the best shooters in college basketball, averaging 13.0 points per game, shooting 54.3 percent (19-for-35) from beyond the 3-point arc and 57.4 percent (27-for-47) from the field. Of course, that means this matchup will be at its most interesting when Hulls has the ball.
Victor Oladipo (6-5, 214, Jr.) vs. Reggie Bullock (6-7, 205, Jr.)
This one has a chance to be an absolute barnburner. Bullock didn’t have as many scoring opportunities as he expected in his first two seasons on a loaded North Carolina squad, but the former top 10 recruit has become the team’s second-leading scorer and its best shooter. He’s made 57.1 percent of his shots and 51.6 percent of his 3-pointers while averaging 12.7 points per game. Of course, Oladipo is building a reputation as one of the best on-ball defenders in the nation. He already has 15 steals this season, and almost always draws the top perimeter option of Indiana’s opponent. He also continues to build his game offensively. He’s dynamite on the dribble-drive — the biggest reason he’s averaging 11.0 points per game and shooting 65.8 percent from the field — and his range is also extending. After shooting 20.8 percent from beyond the 3-point arc last season, he’s made four of his 11 attempts so far (36.4 percent) and is getting better from the mid-range.
Christian Watford (6-9, 230, Sr.) vs. James Michael McAdoo (6-9, 230)
Both of the starting power forwards in this game are dripping with potential but are sometimes maddening in their inconsistency. Watford has come a long way in that department, and he heads into this game second at Indiana in scoring with 13.2 points per game and tops on the squad with 8.0 rebounds, which is the number that stands out the most. He still has moments in which he appears to disengage, but he’s remained much more locked-in so far than he did in his first two seasons and in the early part of last year. McAdoo, a former top 10 recruit, had a somewhat disappointing freshman year playing behind North Carolina’s star-studded starting front line, and was expected to explode this year. That’s happened on some level, as he’s leading North Carolina with 16.8 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. However, he’s also committed a team-high 23 turnovers, and the seven turnovers he committed in North Carolina’s game against Butler in Maui were a big reason the Tar Heels didn’t win that game.
Cody Zeller (7-foot, 240, So.) vs. Joel James (6-10, 260, Fr.)
Obviously, this is the position at which Indiana unequivocally has the edge as always. James hasn’t started a game yet, but we’re putting him in this spot with the assumption that Roy Williams will want his biggest player to deal with the best big man in college basketball. Zeller hasn’t been atop his game yet and he’s still averaging 15.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per game while shooting 64.0 percent from the field. James is averaging just 4.7 points, but he’s also grabbing 5.8 rebounds per game and shooting 64.7 percent from the field on a limited number of attempts.
Both teams have lots of depth. North Carolina’s is just slightly bigger because the Hoosiers have three forwards on the shelf in injured senior forward Derek Elston and suspended freshmen Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Peter Jurkin. If James starts, the Tar Heels will have the 6-foot-9 Desmond Hubert coming off the bench as well as well as the 6-foot-9 Brice Johnson. They also have a lot of depth at the wings with versatile junior swingman Leslie McDonald — one of the team’s best shooters —as well as explosive freshman J.P. Tokoto. The Heels will be without sophomore P.J. Hairston, the team’s third leading scorer, because of an injury suffered at practice.
The Hoosiers will try to make up for post depth with athleticism, but they have plenty. The versatile Will Sheehey is coming off a 19-point effort against Ball State and he can defend any position. Sophomore Remy Abell gives the Hoosiers another combo guard option and he’s made an astounding 72.2 percent of his shots. Maurice Creek is finding his groove after missing all of last season, and freshman Jeremy Hollowell has struggled at times, but at 6-8, he has the length to defend in the post in the Hoosiers’ smaller lineups as well as the skill to score from anywhere.