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Game Preview: #2 UNC at Notre Dame

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Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

North Carolina at Notre Dame, 7:00 PM, ESPN

UNC looks to bounce back after a loss at Louisville on Monday. Here are the focal points.

The Slump

We've reached a point where Marcus Paige's shooting slump has now become sentient is close to taking physical form. Some sort of blood sacrifice ritual might be necessary to properly exorcise the demons.

Actually the biggest problem right now might be that in the midst of the slump there is anxiety for it to end and a fear that it might now. Sort of like when you have the flu. You feel like complete crap, can't imagine ever feeling normal again and really have no idea when it is going to be over. Obviously it will all end at some point but seeing that place is very difficult while your fever is 102 and you don't feel like moving.

Fortunately, Paige probably isn't approaching it that way but even now he has to be thinking this has gone on longer than it probably should have. Or has it? Looking back this isn't the first time Paige has endured a bad shooting stretch on the perimeter. In early December during the 2013-14 season, Paige followed up his 32 point outing versus Louisville with a four game stretch of 4-24 shooting from three(16%). A month later it was a six game stretch at the beginning of ACC play. Paige was 9-38 including going 1-8, 2-11 and 1-6 in three of those games. UNC also lost four of five in that stretch including three in a row.

Paige isn't the only Tar Heel to endure this kind of slump. Wayne Ellington had an 11 game stretch during the 2008-09 season where he shot 28% from three(13-46) and during the first five games of that period was just 5-22(23%). Ellington's slump ended with seven threes in the second half versus Miami. Teammate Danny Green also had his struggles that season. Green endured a six game slump at the worst possible time, March. From the next to last regular season game on March 4th that season to the NCAA 2nd Round game versus LSU, Green was just 7-30 from three(23%). In the four postseason games of that stretch(2 ACCT, 2 NCAA), Green was 3-19(16%)

The point here is this happens. Paige's slump is worse than the others because he had three games where he didn't even make a three. Still the logic is the same. Paige should come out of at some point. Notre Dame's defense is such that it probably should be in this game especially since teams are shooting 38.9% against the Irish from three.

Pound it inside

One element that could help Paige and the perimeter shooting in general is the fact UNC should be able to stay interior focused in this game.  Notre Dame doesn't sport much size beyond 6-10 Zach Auguste and 6-8 V.J. Beachum. The latter leads the team in 3PA meaning he is not much of a post presence leaving only the former as the only legitimate post threat. In that respect this is a game for Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks to feast on the interior.

In last season's ACC Championship game, Brice Johnson went for 20 points on 10-12 shooting. He literally got anything he wanted once the ball inside with Notre Dame unable to stop him. Given his progression this season, more of the same should be in order in this game. Doing so could also push the Irish post players into foul trouble. Since Notre Dame could be tough to stop on the other end, UNC will need to be able to match blow for blow. Leaning on the interior scoring is one way to do that.

Defensive test

Given UNC's troubles defending threes, this is a tough match-up. Notre Dame loves to spread the floor, drive with Demetrius Jackson and kick for open threes. However, the Irish are not just a three point shooting team. Notre Dame is shooting 55.4% on two point shots and the team's 3PA% is 34.7 which is actually down from last season. Some of that is leaning more on Zach Auguste in the post but also multiple players from hitting shots all over the court. The five Irish starts all shoot 54% or better inside the arc making this team very difficult to cover. Complicating matters is Nate Britt might not be available due to a back injury. Britt has the quickness to in front of the ball and missing him will create depth issues.

In a game where defensive stops will be extremely valuable, protecting the defensive glass will be paramount. UNC has done a decent job with defensive rebounding with some notable struggles peppered throughout. Notre Dame rebounds just 33.1% of its misses however offensive rebounds are ripe for easy put backs or open threes. When facing a team that is as efficient as Notre Dame is, when there is a chance to end the possession, UNC must do it else the Tar Heels will be courting disaster.

UNC 88 Notre Dame 82