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ACC Semifinals: #1 UNC vs #4 Notre Dame

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

ACC Semifinals: North Carolina vs Notre Dame, 7:00 PM, ESPN

UNC and Notre Dame meet in the ACC Tournament for a second straight season, this time in the semifinals. Here are the focal points.

Revenge Tour Continues

UNC lost six times this season, four in ACC play. The Tar Heels "got one back" versus Duke last week in Durham and with Notre Dame the opponent tonight, Carolina can get some payback for an 80-76 loss in South Bend back in early February.  Of course it really goes beyond just one game this season. UNC has lost three straight to the Irish after winning twice in 2014, Notre Dame's first season in the ACC. Since that sweep the Heels lost 71-70 at home to the Irish then fell in the ACC title game last year after leading midway through the second half. The road date this season looked like UNC might end the skid, especially with Marcus Paige hitting five threes, but UNC forced too few turnovers and committed too many fouls.

The three game losing streak to Notre Dame undoubtedly weighs on the Tar Heels. The Irish kept UNC from winning the ACC Tournament last season at the same time becoming the third straight Tar Heel opponent in the league title game to grab its first ever conference crown in basketball. There is also the manner in which UNC has lost with Notre Dame living at the free throw line and rallying twice to knock of the Tar Heels.

There is also the matter of Notre Dame seeing itself as the foil to the Blue Bloods of the ACC. Notre Dame is 5-1 versus Duke since entering the league and 3-2 versus the Tar Heels with an ACC Championship in hand.

“Yeah,” Notre Dame Coach Mike Brey said, leaning against a wall outside his locker room. “We like spoiling [stuff] in this league.”

Not that will necessarily motivate the UNC players, they have plenty besides that in their own experience versus the Irish. However, it might be time to put Notre Dame back in its place and UNC is positioned to do so.

Rebounding, rebounding, rebounding.

One of the annoyances with UNC's loss to Notre Dame at South Bend was the fact the Tar Heels were dominated on the defensive glass by good but not great offensive rebounding team. Notre Dame's ORB% has hovered in the low 30s for much of the season yet on February 6th, the Irish managed an ORB% of 43.5, fifth best for the season. Notre Dame also topped that number versus Duke on Wednesday(45.5) in rallying from 16 down to win in overtime. Despite not being an elite rebounding team on the offensive end, Notre Dame has its moments.

UNC on the other hand is an average defensive rebounding team but also not given to extremes. Only five teams have topped 40% in ORB% versus UNC, two of those(Texas and Notre Dame) won the game. Notre Dame's effort in the first game was the second best ORB% by a UNC opponent this season and led to a +10 advantage in second chance points. That, along with the points off turnovers and free throws was more than enough the negate an otherwise lackluster shooting performance from the Irish.

It stands to reason, Notre Dame won't shoot as poorly as it did on February 6th which makes controlling the boards an even bigger factor since stops might be tougher to come by versus a good offensive team.

No fouls

If it had been one game then maybe it wouldn't be such a huge deal but the past three games have included one consistent factor. Notre Dame drives the basketball, draws fouls and makes seemingly all the free throws. In the past three losses to Notre Dame, the Irish have enjoyed a 74-39 edge in made free throws with 35 more attempts at the line. There are some extra free throw attempts in their for UNC fouling late but still it is a fairly staggering point differential.

A huge factor last season in the free throw difference was Notre Dame having Jerian Grant, Pat Connaughton and Demetrius Jackson to slice the Tar Heel defense. Once those players get into the lane, a foul call seemed almost automatic. Notre Dame will likely take the same approach versus UNC this time hoping for a similar result. That puts pressure on the perimeter players to protect the lane and the Tar Heel big men to defend without fouling. The problem with Notre Dame is once the defense is broken, it becomes a pick your poison moment. Open three point shooters make the Irish particularly dangerous but giving up fouls after foul and free throw after free throw hasn't been any better for UNC in this match-up.

UNC 77 Notre Dame 71