North Carolina vs Notre Dame, 7:00 PM, ESPN
The Tar Heel return to action on a short turnaround for the first of two games at home against ranked ACC foes this week. On tap first are the Notre Dame Fighting Irish who enter the game 14-1 overall with a loss to Providence being the only blemish. Notre Dame opened ACC play with a double overtime win over Georgia Tech at home on Saturday.
The pertinent question for the Tar Heels heading into this game is one of consistency. UNC put together one of the more complete performances of the season at Clemson on Saturday. UNC opened up a big halftime lead then put the proverbial boot on the throat in the second half. UNC was so dominant the starters sans Justin Jackson watched the final seven minutes of the game from the bench. The Tar Heels quickly arrive at the next step which is to put together a similar effort from a intensity and focus standpoint as well as in terms of execution.
As noted in the statistical overview, Notre Dame will certain test UNC's defense. In particular, the Tar Heels will have their hands full with Irish PG Jerian Grant. Grant misses most of last season due to academic issues but has returned with a bang through 15 games. Grant is averaging 17.9 ppg and dishing out 6.2 apg. His ability to score also makes him a dangerous facilitator. Stopping him from penetrating will be crucial since Notre Dame has a roster full of players who can hit threes if Grant can adequately collapse the defense.
On the flip side, Notre Dame is not a great defensive team at 160th in defensive efficiency and sporting a fairly low defensive turnover rate of 19.1. What the Irish don't do defensively is foul with a national best 20.6 free throw rate for opposing teams. While it will be strength on strength when Notre Dame has the basketball, UNC's offense should be able to operate efficiently against the Irish defense.
Another potential factor is the fact this game is a short turnaround for both teams with a notable difference. While UNC cruised to a 24 point win at Clemson where no Tar Heel played more than 27 minutes, Notre Dame was stuck in a double overtime game versus Georgia Tech. Grant and Pat Connaughton played all 50 minutes while fellow starters Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia played 45 and 42 minutes respectively. If UNC can push the tempo, there is a good chance Notre Dame's legs could be an issue in the second half. For a three point shooting team facing one of the best teams in the country defending the three, that could be a serious issue.
UNC 84 Notre Dame 71