Following back-to-back losses in the Phil Knight Invitational, the North Carolina men's basketball team draws another marquee matchup as it heads to Bloomington to face No. 10 Indiana.
As the Tar Heels enter one of the more hostile environments in the nation in the form of Indiana's Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, the team will look to earn its first statement victory of the season. Here are three keys that could lead the Tar Heels to victory.
Better shot selection
In the Tar Heels’ losses to Iowa State and Alabama, the team shot 44 percent and 41.8 percent from the field, respectively. While junior guards Caleb Love and RJ Davis accounted for much of the team's offense during this stretch, knocking down 30 field goals between the two of them.
However, the guards' shot selection has been somewhat concerning.
Against Alabama, Love went 13-36 from the field and Davis shot 8-24. While they are major contributors to the team’s success, head coach Hubert Davis has made it clear that they must be more selective about their shooting.
“Some of the shots I am 100 percent comfortable with,” Davis said at a press conference on Tuesday. “Others, I am not. And we’ve talked about it.”
The duo has taken over 50 percent of the team’s shots through their first seven games this season. Hubert Davis emphasized that each shot taken by the team must be a shot that is agreed upon by the whole team, not just the two players.
“Getting a shot that not only one person wants, but getting a shot that everybody agrees upon and everybody wants,” Davis said. “Just understanding the difference between a good shot and a bad shot, and that’s a discussion I've not only had with RJ and Caleb but I've had with the entire team.”
Improve ball movement and generate assists
North Carolina has been inefficient with sharing the ball thus far, with the team currently tied for 250th in assists across all Division I teams with 12.3 per game.
Against high-caliber teams, the Tar Heels must revert to incorporating consistent ball movement into their regimen. In Sunday’s 103-101 quadruple-overtime loss to the Crimson Tide, the team recorded only 15 assists through 60 minutes. Against the Hoosiers, North Carolina has to break the pattern of stagnation to stay in the game.
“That (assists) is something that Carolina basketball prides itself on,” Davis said. “In terms of passing the basketball and being able to distribute and create shots for others, so far it has been difficult.”
Davis mentioned that other teams have trapped more off of ball screens and kept the guards out of the paint. This tactic makes it increasingly difficult to create assist opportunities and will nonetheless be difficult against a deep Indiana team.
Whether that be more possession time for forwards and centers or being more efficient off-ball screens, North Carolina must make adjustments on Wednesday night to give the UNC's other players more scoring opportunities.
Stop Xavier Johnson and force turnovers
The Hoosiers have relied heavily on star forward Trayce Jackson-Davis in recent years, and the Preseason All-American has remained dominant this season by averaging 18.8 points per game while shooting 76 percent from the field. While Jackson-Davis has undoubtedly been the team's leader, the Hoosiers also roster a quality running mate in redshirt senior guard Xavier Johnson.
After transferring from Pittsburgh, Johnson averaged about 12 points per game and led the Hoosiers team in assists and steals last season. Davis said he has watched Johnson play several times over the years and knows how tough the former Panther can be.
“He (Johnson) has always been extremely talented,” Davis said. “He is one of the fastest guys I’ve ever seen with the ball. His ability to push and penetrate and attack the basket with speed, pace, and power is going to be difficult for us.”
This season, Johnson is averaging 11 points per game and leads the team with 29 assists. The Tar Heels need to come out prepared for his speed and athleticism to come away with a quality win on the road.
“We’re a good basketball team,” Davis said. "We played really well out there (against Iowa State and Alabama), we just didn’t finish it out. There’s a lot to be positive about.”
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