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UNC vs. Notre Dame: Three things to watch

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What to watch when the Heels host the Irish tomorrow night

NCAA Basketball: Pittsburgh at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The #12 North Carolina Tar Heels host Notre Dame tomorrow at 6:00 PM ET at the Smith Center. Carolina is coming off a 80-78 squeaker over Pitt Tuesday night and are looking to set the pace for the ACC lead. The Fighting Irish were tripped up by Duke on Tuesday, and are on a three-game skid. Here are the key points for an important Top 25 match up Saturday night.

Will free throws determine the outcome of this game?

As mentioned after the win over Pitt, the Tar Heels won that game on the free throw line. Carolina did a good job in the fouls department against Pitt, particularly in the front court. It was especially important late in the game when Pitt was just shooting 1-and-1s.

Tomorrow night, UNC will face the top free-throw percentage team in the ACC and the team with the fewest personal fouls per game in the ACC. The Heels need one of those home (rather than road) Saturday performances where the ball is worked inside and Joel Berry II and Justin Jackson are able to drive to the basket. Settling for jump shots will not tip the scales to Notre Dame. If the Heels can get the personal foul margin in their favor early, they may be able to capitalize on two of the strengths of this Irish squad.

Rebounding match ups

Bonzie Colson, a 6-5 junior forward, is the leading scorer and rebounder for Notre Dame. He is averaging a double-double a game and is the leading rebounder in the ACC. However, despite having the league’s leading rebounder, the Irish have a negative rebounding margin on the year (but just barely at -0.1).

Anyone who has read/heard/seen anything about college basketball this year knows about Carolina and rebounding. The four Tar Heels in the front court all have the size advantage over Colson, but will have to be able to handle his athleticism and nose for the basketball. Team rebounding will favor the Heels, if they execute.

Who wins the turnover (or conversion) battle?

This can be a tricky one. In their last game, Notre Dame had eight turnovers to Duke’s 15. A healthy margin like that contributes to the fact that the Fighting Irish are third in the nation in turnovers per game at 9.9. But they still lost to the Blue Devils. For comparison, the Heels are at 12.7 turnovers a game and further down the list at 118.

However, take a look at assist to turnover ratio. Notre Dame is second in the country at a 1.69 ratio and Carolina is 18th at 1.44. It is clear that both teams can dish the ball for points at a clip much better than the amount of turnovers they commit. Perhaps the outcome of the game will not be based exclusively on the turnover number figure alone, but what the other team does after a turnover. The transition game and finding the open will be critical during those moments after a mistake. The Smith Center should be rocking Saturday night, so maybe some of those capitalizing moments off turnovers can help push the momentum to the home team.