Battle of the Blue Bloods:

The recent history of Indiana and North Carolina men's basketball

Photo illustration by Emma Pawlitz

The Hoosiers' most highly anticipated game of the year has finally arrived.

No. 10 Indiana men's basketball welcomes No. 18 University of North Carolina to Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall on Wednesday night for the ultimate iteration of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. The matchup might look different from what fans expected when the Tar Heels were the top team in the country less than a week ago, but there is still plenty to unpack ahead of tipoff.

The two storied programs have a surprisingly deep recent history, including many meaningful relationships and familial connections. So sit back, relax and prepare for the 9:15 p.m. tipoff by reading the tales of the lifelong best friends, the hometown hero and the dominant down-low duo.

Three men wrestle for a basketball

Tribune News Service

Then-Northwestern forwards Miller Kopp and Pete Nance go up for a rebound against Illinois guard Alan Griffin on Feb. 27, 2020, at Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston, Illinois.

New foes, forever friends

It's almost impossible to predict that current Indiana graduate guard Miller Kopp and North Carolina graduate forward Pete Nance would be in this moment over four years after coming to Northwestern in 2018.

In addition to being Wildcat teammates at the time, Kopp and Nance were roommates and best friends. While they might be living over 600 miles apart right now, nothing has changed in terms of the latter.

"He'll be my best friend for life,” Nance said Tuesday.

Ever since they were high schoolers awaiting their basketball careers in Evanston, Illinois, the two were inseparable.

“I first met Miller when I was already committed to Northwestern,” Nance said. “He took his visit, and I flew in to be there and try to convince him to go there as well. That was the first time we met each other, and we really just hit it off from there.”

The inseparable bond that has built up over the past four and a half years is a result of the smiles and tears the two college players endured together.

“Me and Miller have gone through a lot together,” Nance said. “Going through the ups and downs of your freshman, sophomore years of college and being able to have someone you can definitely call your best friend helping and supporting you through hard times is ultimately what brought us together.”

Nance said he and Kopp spent every possible second together at Northwestern — going to classes, playing basketball and hanging out at home. It was a joy for the two to be around each other during their three years attached to the hip.

“He really is a big personality, funny, super outgoing and just a great dude,” Nance said.

After realizing they had so much in common, their friendship was destined from the start.

Fast forward 1,620 days later.

Kopp is in his second year at Indiana. Nance is in his first at North Carolina. They'll meet on the court when the Hoosiers face the Tar Heels Wednesday night, playing against each other for only the second time in their careers. But each is excited just to see the other in person.

“We had a lot of fun playing together when he was at Northwestern,” Nance said. “Just being able to share the floor with him again — I really look forward to it.”


Kopp said the anticipation of this matchup has been building up over quite some time for the best friend duo.

“We talk about it probably once or twice every day,” Kopp said at Indiana's media day Sept. 22. “Every time we FaceTime each other, it comes up. It's gonna be wild, but I'm excited they're coming to Assembly Hall to see how crazy it's gonna be.”

As for their friendship, don't expect the result of the 2022 ACC-Big Ten Challenge to create any bad blood. When Kopp returned to Northwestern in February to face his old teammates for the first time, there were no hard feelings.

He was just thankful to see his best friend.

Now that they're on one of the biggest stages of the year, preparing for a marquee matchup, Kopp and Nance are ready to make the most out of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“We're proud of our progress and how far we've come as players, but we just talk all the time about how crazy it is that it's come full circle again,” Nance said. “(Kopp) transferring away, then me transferring away to a different conference. What are the chances of these two schools being matched up again? It's gonna be really fun.”

Fun for those two? Yes. Entertaining for college basketball fans all around the country? Certainly.

“I know we're gonna have to play our best, because they're gonna play their best,” Kopp said. “It's just gonna be a hard-fought game.”

At the end of the day, though, Kopp and Nance will both walk out of the gym winners. The Indiana-North Carolina matchup is just another emotional milestone in an ever-developing friendship that hasn't faltered with time, distance or hardships.

“It's gotten even stronger,” Nance said. “We lean on each other even more. We talk every day, whether it be about basketball or just bouncing new ideas off each other. It's brought us even closer being away from each other. He means a lot more to me than he knows.”

A man shoots a basketball from mid-jump

IU Archives

Then-Indiana senior forward Scott May attempts to make a basketball against Manhattan College on Dec. 27, 1975, at Madison Square Garden in New York City. May's son, Sean May, is an assisantant coach at the University of North Carolina.

Homecoming King

Tar Heel assistant coach Sean May might live in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, right now, but he'll always call Bloomington his home.

May was raised a Hoosier by his father, Indiana legend Scott May. Scott was a part of the 1975-1976 Indiana squad that won a national championship after an undefeated regular season. He also won multiple National Player of the Year awards after his senior year — that same legendary season.

May and current Indiana head coach Mike Woodson never played in a Hoosier uniform at the same time, as Woodson's freshman year was the 1976-1977 season. However, the two spent multiple overlapping years across different teams in the NBA, and Woodson said he has a close relationship with the May family.

“Sean is like my son,” Woodson said. “I watched him as a baby grow up and become a great high school player, college player for North Carolina.”


Sean is a high school basketball legend around this region of the state. He attended Bloomington North High School from 1998-2002, earning all-state honors three times in his young career. May also won Indiana Mr. Basketball in 2001.

It came as a shock to many when he left Bloomington for Chapel Hill when it came time to choose a college. The Indiana faithful had believed he would follow in his father's footsteps and play for the hometown Hoosiers.

Still, May enjoyed plenty of his own success after carving out his own path on the Atlantic Coast. He won a National Championship and Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four honors in 2005 with the Tar Heels.

At the time, he was the first North Carolina player to average a double-double over his entire three-year career in over 30 years. After his junior year, he was named the Sports Illustrated National Player of the year, the Atlantic Coast Conference's top male athlete and a first-team All-American selection.

Now, the younger May dons the infamous Carolina blue argyle on the Tar Heel bench, and he'll square off against his father's friend for the first time as a coach.

“It's gonna be different looking at him across the way. There are some familiar faces, but they're over there, and we've got to keep them over there.”

— Mike Woodson, Indiana head coach

A man shoots a basketball from mid-jump

IDS file photo by Alex Paul

Then-Indiana junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis shoots the ball Dec. 22, 2021, at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
A man grabs a basketball for a rebound

Tribune News Service

University of North Carolina senior forward Armando Bacot grabs a rebound Nov. 24, 2022, at Moda Center in Portland, Oregon.

The Year of the Big

It's been said from the outset of the year: the college basketball big will be the focal point and best, most talented position during the 2022-2023 season. Senior forwards Trayce Jackson-Davis and Armando Bacot are no exception.

In fact, they're the standard.

Indiana's Jackson-Davis and North Carolina's Bacot were both named AP Preseason All-Americans earlier in the fall — one of the highest honors a college basketball player can attain prior to the start of the season.

Even before the ACC-Big Ten Challenge matchups were announced in June, Jackson-Davis and Bacot were dreaming about the prospect of going head-to-head for the first time in their collegiate careers. As soon as the Hoosiers' star player announced his return to the team on May 20, social media exploded with the idea of a game that would feature two of the country's best players from two of the historically strongest basketball conferences.

Turns out, everyone got their wish.

Jackson-Davis and Bacot have always shared parallels in their game, and the first-ever college matchup for the two forwards will serve to measure who can rise to the challenge, lead their team to victory and assert themselves as a premier player in the sport. But in order to observe the real implications of Wednesday night's marquee event, it's important to take a look into the past.

“We go back,” Jackson-Davis said at Indiana's media day Sept. 22. “Me and Armando, we're really good friends.”

Jackson-Davis and Bacot met on the AAU circuit in high school when the former played for Spiece Indy Heat and the latter for Team Takeover out of Washington, D.C. The Indiana big man said he has fond memories of going to travel tournaments and other big events and spending time with Bacot and other future college and NBA stars.

"We were always roommates at camps — me, him and Cole Anthony (former North Carolina point guard),” Jackson-Davis said. “We always played Super Smash Bros., and Cole would always destroy us. It was basically two-on-one.”

Those three — along with the likes of current NBA players Tyrese Maxey, Quentin Grimes and Coby White — competed on the FIBA U18 Team USA squad in the summer of 2018. Led by current University of Kansas head coach Bill Self, the team won a gold medal in Canada.

That wouldn't mark the last time Jackson-Davis and Bacot shared the same side of the court, though.

In the Spring 2019 McDonald's All-American Game, an event that gives the top high school players a chance to showcase their skills before entering the world of college basketball, the duo was placed on the East Team. Jackson-Davis and Bacot's squad won the outing 115-100 behind Anthony's MVP performance.


Now with three full years of college basketball under their belts, both are strong presences and leaders on their respective teams.

Both Jackson-Davis and Bacot have posted strong individual showings throughout the early season but won't be at 100% for the game from a physical standpoint. Jackson-Davis is “banged up,” in Woodson's words, from games over Thanksgiving break, and Bacot tweaked his ankle against now-No. 11 University of Alabama on Saturday.

To add to that, North Carolina dropped 17 spots in the AP Poll to No. 18 after two losses in the Phil Knight PK85 Tournament last week. The matchup might have lost some of its enamor without the target of the No. 1-ranked team to take down, but Jackson-Davis and the Hoosiers are still treating the game with a high level of seriousness.

“To be considered one of the best teams, you've got to beat the best. They dropped two games, but at the same time, I know they're a great team, and they're gonna be hungry.”

— Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana senior forward

There's no question that Bacot is one of the most important pieces of the Tar Heel puzzle. Jackson-Davis fully understands the gravity of his assignment, even with a matchup when he might not be at his strongest at this point in the season.

“(Bacot) is a really good basketball player,” Jackson-Davis said. “He's a really, really, really good rebounder. He has a knack for finding the ball. Boxing him out, always knowing where he is on the floor when the shot goes up is gonna be huge. He runs in transition, he sets good ball screens, so being up and ready to guard that is gonna be big for me as well.”

Jackson-Davis said it himself: this matchup isn't just about Armando vs. Trayce. Both squads have a handful of talented athletes that have the ability to perform above par under the bright lights.

The biggest point of emphasis on the court will likely be the inevitable dog fight down low. It will be a great opportunity for two friends, Jackson-Davis and Bacot, to prove their talent to each other, their teammates, fans and themselves.

But the greater importance of this game lies in the simple duality of Indiana vs. North Carolina, Hoosiers vs. Tar Heels, and blue blood vs. blue blood.

The Indiana men's basketball team runs onto the court

IDS file photo by Alex Paul

The Indiana men's basketball team runs onto the court ahead of its game against Purdue on Jan. 20, 2022.