UNC faced Notre Dame for the final spot in Houston. Here are the storylines.
Beware the team that keeps pulling out miracle wins
On paper UNC looks the part of the better team and what happened in Washington, DC two weeks ago lends itself to the idea that the Tar Heels should be able to handle Notre Dame. The NCAA Tournament being what it is might dictate otherwise. As Kansas found out last night, winning in the Elite Eight can be tough, especially when certain players pick a bad day to have a bad day. That is certainly the danger here for UNC. The Tar Heels when locked in are very tough to beat but throw in some sort of postseason weirdness, players missing shots they normally make and suddenly you get a closer than expected game.
That is exactly what Notre Dame is hoping for. The Irish trailed by double digits versus Michigan but rallied to win by seven. In the 2nd Round versus Stephen F. Austin, Notre Dame trailed on the last possession but a tip-in with 1.5 seconds left put the Irish in the Sweet Sixteen. On Friday, the Irish was in a slog with Wisconsin and trailed by four late before a three pointer then steal and layup put the Irish ahead for good. Notre Dame has been on the brink three times and three times found a way to win.
UNC's mission in this respect is clear. Play the game in such a way that Notre Dame has no hope for pulling out another miracle finish.
Encore from Marcus Paige?
Friday night the Marcus Paige of early in the season and the previous two seasons showed up in a big way. The senior guard hit four threes and 12 of UNC's 14 points to spark UNC's most efficient offensive outing of the season on the way to an 101-86 win over Indiana. Paige ended the game with 21 points but more importantly served as a bridge(along with Justin Jackson) in the first half to a Brice Johnson/Joel Berry/Kennedy Meeks dominated second half.
Paige has also played really well against Notre Dame this season. In the first meeting, Paige hit five threes and scored 21 points en route to a UNC loss in South Bend. In the ACC Tournament, Paige hit four threes, scored 16 points and dished out seven assists as UNC rolled into the ACC Championship game. In two outings versus the Irish this season, Paige is 9-15 from three. It would not be surprising for him to follow-up Friday's hot shooting with a third efficient scoring effort versus the Irish. And if he does that, UNC's chances of going to Houston will be very good.
Loose and locked in
If there has been another UNC team as loose as this one at this stage of the tournament, I haven't seen. From Theo Pinson crashing press conference to a general lightness to how the team is approaching the non-game activities, the Tar Heels players don't look as though they are feeling any pressure. At the same time this shouldn't be mistaken for overconfidence. The Tar Heels being a loose team is more a byproduct of the player personalities and a team enjoying being together as well as the journey.
This is also a team that is locked into playing its best basketball of the season at the right time. After going through much the season with some offensive inconsistency during the meat of the ACC schedule and questions after the loss to Duke, this team has becomes everything we thought it could and should be before the season started. As Doc noted, UNC hasn't always followed the set narrative. In doing so UNC has proven it is not winning thanks to just one or two players but with a team effort. Starting with the win at Duke, UNC has played hard, played smart and played together. Do that one more time and the Tar Heels will head to Houston.
UNC 85 Notre Dame 71