North Carolina heads to No. 1 Indiana

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The Tar Heels will have to face the top-ranked Hoosiers without P.J. Hairston, due to an injury.

North Carolina men’s basketball coach Roy Williams learned a lot about his team on their trip to Hawaii last week.

He learned that the Tar Heels (5-1) don’t have the inside-outside balance he wants them to have.

He also learned they just weren’t tough enough.

“We’d set a screen and they’d run through it,” Williams said about his team’s play in Maui.

“They’d set a screen and we’d stop and start calling for momma.”

That toughness and offensive balance will be tested tonight when UNC travels to No. 1 Indiana.

Not only are the Hoosiers (6-0) the top-ranked team in the country, they have the preseason national player of the year Cody Zeller controlling the paint.

Zeller, younger brother of former UNC standout Tyler Zeller, is averaging 15 points and eight rebounds so far in his sophomore campaign.

“He’s been the star … just look at the numbers,” Williams said. “Those other guys are good players but he’s the guy that makes everybody else change their defense and you have to be concerned about him.

“He gave them a legitimate inside scorer that can foul out the other players. I just think he’s a great player.”

Williams is familiar with the Indiana star — he was heavily recruited by the UNC staff.

But Williams made it very clear that the Tar Heels can’t afford to spend all their energy focussing on Zeller. Each of the other four starters are also averaging double-digit points.

In order to hang with the Hoosiers, No. 14 UNC will need to see more of the success from behind the 3-point arc that it had against Mississippi State and Chaminade, in addition to a more consistent inside presence.

But a dominant inside game is a tough goal to reach against Indiana, especially with a young corps of Tar Heel post players.

“I do want us to have more balance with inside scoring,” Williams said. “But we don’t have the experience to score inside right now with Brice (Johnson) and Joel (James), particularly, and even Desmond (Hubert).”

Those young forwards and freshman point guard Marcus Paige will have to perform in one of the most difficult environments in college basketball. They will have to do so without P.J. Hairston, who will miss the game with a knee injury.

But, inexperienced as they may be, senior Dexter Strickland thinks the Tar Heels can handle it.

“Those guys have no clue what type of atmosphere it’s going to be (tonight),” Strickland said. “I think we’re ready for it. As a team we have focused on just going out there and execute what coach wants.

“I don’t think anybody is going out there trying to do too much. Everybody knows their role and is just ready to play.”

Contact the desk editor at sports@dailytarheel.com.

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