The Tar Heels will seek a second straight win tomorrow morning when they host Notre Dame inside the Smith Center. We last saw Carolina on Wednesday, and behind a big second half from R.J. Davis, career performances from Leaky Black and Seth Trimble, along with a steady Armando Bacot, UNC outlasted Wake Forest 88-79. That win improved Carolina’s record to 11-5 overall and evened its mark in the ACC at 2-2. It’s only January but it’s never too early to start keeping an eye on bracketology. As of today, Carolina is listed as the No. 6 seed in the West region, as Carolina has a lot of work to do to get itself back among a top-four seed over the next two months.
Notre Dame returned the core of its team that finished second in the ACC last season and made the NCAA Tournament, yet they enter tomorrow’s game at 8-7 overall, and 0-4 in conference play. What’s even weirder is that they have 5 guys averaging double figures scoring led by Nate Laszewski’s 13.4 points per contest, but that is virtually all the scoring the Fighting Irish, as they average only 69 points per game. Make no mistake though, despite their modest record, Notre Dame always plays Carolina tough, and Mike Brey is still one of the best coaches in all of college basketball and will be looking to find a way to turn around, what’s becoming a lost season in South Bend.
Hubert Davis met with the media today and updated the status of Pete Nance who left the Wake Forest win with a back injury. Davis listed Nance as “day to day”, and claimed that if he feels good enough to play, then he will play in this game, if not they will check his status before the showdown with Virginia on Tuesday night.
Carolina is a perfect 7-0 at home this season, as they’ve lost only two games in Chapel Hill since Hubert Davis took over. Wake Forest may not be a ranked team, but you could argue that it was as good a win as any so far this season, given how difficult it is to defend them for 40 minutes. The challenge is that that win carries over into this game, as Carolina tries to establish itself as the team to beat in a wide-open ACC:
Create Your Own Energy: This may be a weekend game on campus, but given the 11:30 AM start time, there’s no guarantee that the Smith Center will be full for a conference game. This isn't the first early start for the Tar Heels, as they played Portland at 10 AM Pacific time, to begin competition in the Phil Knight Invitational. As experienced as this team is, it comes down to the maturity of the team coming through, as they may have to create their own energy in the building, to avoid letting Notre Dame hang around.
Build Off Second Half Offensive Performance: The 88 points scored in the win over Wake Forest weren’t the most they’ve scored this season (102 against Charleston), but you could make the case that was the best the offense has looked this season, especially in the second half, as they scored 51 points, on 60% shooting. A big reason why was Hubert Davis deployed a three-guard lineup, which opened up driving lanes for everybody, which led to clean looks from behind the arc. Of course, it all started with them pounding the ball inside to Armando Bacot, which needs to remain the focus as Notre Dame doesn’t have anyone that can match up with him. Carolina has shown flashes of its offensive potential at times this season, but its rarely carried over into the next game, if it carries over into this one, it’s hard to imagine the Irish scoring enough to keep up.
Defense: You might be wondering why this is a key to the game given the struggles of the opponent on offense, and the reason is simple: Notre Dame has always caused matchup problems for Carolina, and if they aren’t locked in, they could be exploited. While it starts and ends with Laszewski, all of their other starters average double figures, meaning they are more than capable of hurting Carolina. Simply put, Carolina needs to make Notre Dame work for everything on that end of the floor, against Pittsburgh they weren’t as aggressive, and they allowed them to gain confidence while playing in rhythm. If that happens in this game, Notre Dame is more than capable of hanging around longer than they probably should. You would imagine Hubert Davis will deploy the full-court press that has been so effective for this team, in addition to playing that three-guard lineup, which allows them to switch everything on the defensive end of the floor. A lot like coming out ready to play, Carolina’s defense will either be a testament to their experience, or a detriment.
Series History: Against Notre Dame, Carolina is 27-9 overall, and is 11-5 since they joined the conference. UNC has won four straight in Chapel Hill, and they are 8-1 all-time at home against the Fighting Irish.
North Carolina - 22nd overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 115.0 (11th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 96.4 (72nd)
Notre Dame - 120th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 108.5 (59th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 104.1 (220th)
North Carolina - 28th.
Notre Dame - 180th.
TV Info: Tomorrow morning’s game will tip off at 11:30 AM on ESPN2.
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