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IU wants to slow Tar Heels down

Cody Zeller (40) said defensive focus and energy will be crucial Tuesday night against No. 13 North Carolina.

Indiana faces a minor paradox Tuesday night, in its most anticipated non-conference game of the season.

The No. 1 Hoosiers must maintain their up-tempo style while trying to stop North Carolina from doing the same. The Tar Heels (5-1, No. 14), though, are just as efficient running the floor and scoring in bunches as Indiana (6-0).

In fact, they might be better.

“I don’t know that we’ve ever seen a fast break come into Assembly Hall, in our time here, like were going to see tomorrow night,” IU coach Tom Crean said Monday. “Their transition is literally second to no one. It always is with (North Carolina coach) Roy Williams teams.”

Statistics split both teams down the middle.

North Carolina is No. 8 in the country in adjusted tempo, per KenPom.com, while Indiana clocks in at No. 67. Adjusted tempo measures how well a team plays at its own preferred pace, compared to that of its opponent.

But Indiana has, according to that same site, the most efficient offense in the country, scoring more points per possession (1.22) than any other Division I basketball team. The Hoosiers are also seventh nationally in defensive efficiency, allowing just 0.88 points per possession. North Carolina currently stands 24th and ninth, nationally, in those two categories.

“They want to get out and push the ball up the court or whatever,” sophomore forward Cody Zeller said. “We can’t let them score it as quickly as they want to on offense.”

James Michael McAdoo (pictured above) is among the best rebounders Indiana will see all year, according to coach Tom Crean.

Here, Indiana confronts that paradox, because Zeller’s description of North Carolina closely mirrors the common methods of his own team.

So far this season, Indiana is averaging nearly 89 points per game on offense. The Hoosiers force more than 16 turnovers per game, and they are in the nation’s top 50 in turnover percentage defense — the percentage of opponents’ possessions that end in turnovers — averaging a giveaway forced about once in every four possessions.

Before its regular-season game against then-No. 1 Kentucky last December, Indiana’s players and coach openly talked about trying to slow the pace of the game, so as not to let Kentucky find its rhythm offensively. There appears to be no similar desire this time.

Tuesday night, Indiana will need to stay itself, to keep its fast-paced identity, without allowing North Carolina the same luxury.

“All five guys are gonna run the court at their hardest every possession,” Zeller said. “We can’t take one possession off. We can’t celebrate a nice play, because they’ll be scoring in two seconds down at the other end.”

One of the headline games of this year’s Big Ten/ACC Challenge will also feature a squaring up between two talented sophomore big men, two players that once sat side by side on the Tar Heels’ recruiting board and are now assembling player-of-the-year resumes early in their second seasons in college.

Zeller nearly went to North Carolina, where his brother Tyler played, putting them in his final three with Butler and Indiana before committing to IU in 2010. In his second season in Bloomington, he is a presumptive Big Ten Player of the Year candidate and a preseason All-American, and he’s pulled his rebounding numbers up noticeably from a year ago.

“A lot of things have changed since even the last time I was down there with Tyler,” Zeller said of UNC.”I have a lot of respect for those guys. They’ve always treated me and Tyler very well.”

James Michael McAdoo, who would have paired with Zeller in the Tar Heels’ 2011 class, has turned momentum from the end of his freshman season into an excellent start to this year.

Thus far in 2012, McAdoo is averaging 16.8 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, shooting 50.6 percent from the field. Athletic and agile at 6-foot-9, 230 pounds, he presents match-up difficulties for an Indiana team still thinned in the frontcourt by injuries and suspensions. Crean on Monday called McAdoo “as good of a rebounder, especially on the offensive end, as these young men will have seen, this year or any other year.”

North Carolina will, however, be without third-leading scorer P.J. Hairston, after the 6-foor-5 guard sprained his knee during practice Sunday. Multiple Internet reports suggest Hairston will not travel to Bloomington with the Tar Heels.

Crean acknowledged the news on his radio show Monday night, saying he still fears North Carolina’s depth across its roster anyway. From lead guards Marcus Paige and Dexter Strickland to 3-point specialist Reggie Bullock to McAdoo, from rebounding to tempo to defensive pressure, Crean talked at length Monday evening about the challenges North Carolina will present.

But what will, perhaps, be Indiana’s greatest task cannot be measured tangibly, as the Hoosiers confront that paradox — they must stop speedy Carolina without stopping themselves.

“I can’t tell you how it’s gonna play out,” Crean said. “It’s gonna be a fast-paced game.”

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