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UNC vs. Notre Dame: Game Preview

The Tar Heels face another tough road test.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 09 Boston College at North Carolina Photo by Chris Rodier/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The No. 20 North Carolina Tar Heels got back on track on Tuesday night with their decisive win against Boston College. A career day from Luke Maye, an aggressive start on both ends of the floor, and better execution throughout contributed to the win.

However, the Heels are in South Bend, Indiana tomorrow seeking their first road conference win against a Notre Dame team reeling after a seven-point road loss to Georgia Tech.

Notre Dame

The major storyline for the Fighting Irish is the loss of 2017-18 Preseason ACC Player of the Year Bonzie Colson to a broken foot. He missed the last three games and is projected to miss eight weeks total.

An injury to senior guard Matt Farrell during their recent game against NC State also hurts Notre Dame. He missed the last two games, and Tom Noie of NDInsider reports that Farrell is unlikely to play against Carolina.

These two absences loom large, particularly because Colson (21.4 PPG) and Farrell (15.9 PPG) are the leading scorers for the Irish.

Wednesday night, Notre Dame lost by seven in Atlanta against Georgia Tech. The Irish fought back after a 10-point halftime deficit to briefly take the lead halfway through the second half.

As time ticked away, Georgia Tech held Notre Dame for stretches during which they were able to move back ahead by a couple of possessions. The Irish pulled within three, but did not score for the last 3:21 of the game.

In the two wins after Colson’s injury, sophomore guard TJ Gibbs led the way for Notre Dame, scoring team highs against NC State and Syracuse.

After Colson’s injury, DJ Harvey was inserted into the starting lineup against NC State and scored a career-high 17 points on 6-9 shooting, including 3-4 from three-point range.

Notre Dame is not going to give the ball away, especially with the ball handling of Rex Pflueger. The Irish are sixth in the country in turnovers per game, committing just 9.7 on average. With their adjusted tempo at 282nd in the country, the Heels must take advantage of the chances they create on the defensive end.

Although the Notre Dame offense has slipped slightly, they are still capable of putting up points. They are 47.3 percent from the field this season, good for 66th in the country. Their adjusted offensive efficiency is 25th best at 114.6.

Notre Dame v Syracuse
TJ Gibbs #10
Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

The most notable improvement is on defense. Led by TJ Gibbs, the Irish are much more aggressive on defense. Their efforts have put them at 35th in adjusted defensive efficiency. This is a big improvement over the past couple seasons where the offense pulled along an above average to mediocre defense, and the highest rating since the 2007-08 season.

Projected Notre Dame Fighting Irish Lineup

Player Number Height Position Class
Player Number Height Position Class
TJ Gibbs 10 6-6 G Sophomore
D.J. Harvey 3 6-6 G Freshman
Rex Pflueger 0 6-6 G Junior
Elijah Burns 12 6-8 F Junior
Martinas Geben 23 6-10 F Senior

North Carolina

The Tar Heels are coming off an impressive victory against Boston College. Back in Blue Heaven, UNC started off strong on both ends of the court. After two early BC baskets, Carolina held the Eagles scoreless for nearly 6 minutes.

The Tar Heels took at 15-point lead to the locker room. Boston College came out firing in the second half, reducing the lead to seven before Carolina pulled away. Behind the efforts of Luke Maye’s 32 point and 18 rebound night, UNC won by 30.

Coach Roy Williams in the postgame said the “defense early was pretty good” and “Joel [Berry] set the tone.” Against the Notre Dame offense, with or without Matt Farrell, Berry and the Tar Heels need impose their defensive will early in South Bend.

Besides the Maye career day, the big news for the BC game was inserting Cam Johnson into the starting lineup for the so-called “Death Lineup” consisting of Joel Berry II, Kenny Williams, Theo Pinson, Johnson, and Maye.

There are several key takeaways from these players eating up the majority of the minutes Tuesday night.

First, there were just four turnovers committed by starters. Maye had three, Williams had one, while Berry, Pinson, and Johnson did not turn the ball over.

Second, there seemed to be less pressure on Garrison Brooks and Sterling Manley. Just from the eye test, those two freshman bigs looked much more comfortable on the floor.

Manley seemed as comfortable as he has all season. The best part was seeing no hesitation on his part to slam it home. This aggressiveness getting to the rim will be something to watch tomorrow and in the coming weeks.

Boston College v North Carolina
Sterling Manley #21
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Lastly, the Heels were getting to the glass. Their 54 rebounds are a season high, and it was truly a team effort. Of course, Maye grabbing 18 rebounds helps, but the biggest difference was Johnson. His 11 rebounds matched a career high, and it seems as though Johnson is finally at game speed and comfortable in the UNC system.

There is no doubt about it, the Heels must start on time tomorrow. No matter the starting lineup, UNC needs to have the opposite starts than the ones in their last two road games. Carolina has an opportunity with two Notre Dame stars out of the lineup to get their first road conference win, but it will be up to the Heels to take it.

Projected UNC Tar Heels Lineup

Player Number Height Position Class
Player Number Height Position Class
Joel Berry II 2 6-0 G Senior
Kenny Williams III 24 6-4 G Junior
Theo Pinson 1 6-6 F/G Senior
Cam Johnson 13 6-8 F Graduate Transfer
Luke Maye 32 6-8 F Junior

Score: UNC 79, Notre Dame 74