North Carolina at Notre Dame, 12:00 PM, ACC Network
During UNC's recent four game winning streak, the Tar Heels have benefited from the level of competition easing up and playing three of four games at home. Now UNC heads on the road in hopes of extending the winning streak to five games and moving to 6-4 in ACC play before facing a very difficult three game stretch against Duke, Pitt and Florida State.While Notre Dame isn't necessarily different in terms of caliber from the four teams UNC has recently beaten, the Irish do have a win over Duke at home. Playing the likes of UNC and Duke always bring out the best in teams, even if they are missing a key player.
Speaking of which Notre Dame really hasn't quite been the same since Jerian Grant left the team in late December due to academic issues. When he walked out the door, he took a significant portion of the Irish offense which included the team's best three point shooter. Carrying most of the offensive load in Grant's stead has been the trio of Eric Atkins, Garrick Sherman and Pat Connaughton. Atkins and Connaughton hit 36% and 38% of their threes respectively with the former dishing out 4.8 assists per game. Sherman, at 6-11, presents a tough challenge for UNC. He is averaging 14.5 ppg hits 52% of his shots and is a 71% free throw shooter. That makes him one of the more dangerous big men UNC has faced in recent games and certainly a challenge for Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson to cover, especially given Sherman is also a fairly decent rebounder at eight per contest.
UNC's best hope lies with Second Half Marcus Paige being Whole Game Marcus Paige. It remains a mystery why the sophomore guard continues to be only truly effective in one half of the game. Regardless of which half Paige decides to show up, the point is that he shows up at all. In UNC's four ACC losses, Paige is averaging 10.5 ppg which includes three games in single digits and a 17 point "outburst" at Syracuse. In the five ACC wins, Paige is averaging 19.0 ppg scoring 20 points or more twice. It is not rocket science to figure out that Paige's production has a lot to do with UNC's recent success as does the play of James Michael McAdoo. When McAdoo is aggressive and attacking the basket UNC has been able to do things like jump all over Maryland 19-3 to start a game. When he doesn't do that, the offense isn't nearly as good.
At this point, UNC has a grasp of what has made this team better. While the schedule has helped it is clear the Tar Heels are playing the game at a different level. Granted the recently discovered intensity and "sense of urgency" hasn't been tested against a quality opponent but the team has faced some on-the-court adversity and handled it fine. This game will likely present more of the same. Given the difficult nature of the three games following this one UNC can ill-afford to bypass on opportunities for a win of which this contest certainly qualifies.
UNC 74 Notre Dame 69