After one of the most exciting opening weekends in NCAA tournament history, the field of 64 teams has now been narrowed to 16, each of which is vying this weekend for a shot at the Elite Eight, and hopefully, the Final Four. Indiana and North Carolina are two of those teams, and with storied programs on both sides, it is no surprise to find that each side has players that have been here before. In particular, there are two players that stand out as paramount in this matchup, one of which will be playing their final game in their respected uniform. The two? Standout seniors, point guards and All-Conference studs, Yogi Ferrell and Marcus Paige.
For a deeper look at what the two bring to the table, let's break it down.
Ferrell is coming off yet another phenomenal year for the Hoosiers. During the course of the regular season, he averaged 17.1 PPG and 5.6 APG, and was named unanimously a member of the First Team All-Big Ten. Being the top scoring threat on his team, Ferrell was forced to pick up some of the workload when sophomore shooting guard James Blackmon Jr. went down for the season with a knee injury. Despite averaging a large workload of 34.7 minutes per game, he has managed to retain his scoring magic, putting up 20 points and 10 assists against Chattanooga in IU's first round matchup and 18 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists against Kentucky. This is Ferrell's second trip to the Sweet 16, and his first since his freshman season. Indiana lost that game to Syracuse, 61-50.
When Yogi is on, he's one of the top players in the nation. However, the same rings true for his opponent.
Marcus Paige may be having an off year, but he remains as important to the Tar Heel attack as before. In his senior season, Paige averaged 12.0 PPG and 3.7 APG, significantly down from his 17.5 PPG and 4.2 APG during his sophomore campaign. Part of this is due to his role readjustment; Paige played 31.5 MPG this season in comparison to 35.6 MPG in 2013-14. Do not be fooled by the numbers, he is the heart and mind that makes this supremely talented Tar Heel team go. He is a strong passer, and if he starts to get hot, he presents a formidable threat from beyond the three-point line. Tom Crean needs to have his Hoosiers on the lookout for just that.
The interesting thing about this matchup is how truly similar these two guys are. Paige is 6-1, 175 lbs and Ferrell is 6-1, 180 lbs. Both can play in the paint but have range from deep. Both are seniors and both are gunning for a shot at the NBA, but not until the NCAA tournament has reached its end.
From a talent standpoint, it looks as if Ferrelll has the advantage. He is more explosive off the ball and is a better hounder off the boards than his Carolina blue counterpart. Yogi is also stroking the three much better than Paige this season and will be a major asset for Indiana. Then again, the supporting case of Paige is going to make him even better.
North Carolina may enter as favorites in this game, but Indiana just might have the better point guard on the floor. Regardless of the outcome, this is going to be a fun game to watch.