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UNC vs. Notre Dame: Three Things to Watch

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UNC needs to stop the bleeding, and a wounded Notre Dame team may be just the tonic.

NCAA Basketball: Virginia at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Despite a dramatic starting lineup change, better three-point shooting (40%!), and a double-digit 2nd half lead at one point, Carolina came up short against Georgia Tech in Atlanta on New Year’s Eve eve. Roy Williams watched in despair as his Tar Heels continued turning the ball over (18 giveaways) and getting killed from deep (GT shot 45.5% from 3-point range).

After the game, Carolina fans didn’t expect to see the Heels in action until Tuesday night in Miami, but the ACC was able to make this game happen. Here are three things to watch during a surprise home game against the Irish:

How will the benched starters respond?

Those familiar with Roy Williams knows that he does not respond to fan grumbling when it comes to starting line-ups. So imagine the surprise of Tar Heel Nation when they saw the starting line-up against Georgia Tech:

Roy said that the adjustment was largely based on defensive grading of the disastrous NC State loss. Garrison Brooks, Caleb Love, and Leaky Black started the game on the bench. The trio still led the team in minutes played, but they all had up-and-down performances that cost Carolina in the end.

Leaky scored ten points, but was not as active on the boards as he has been throughout the season. Caleb hit two 3-pointers, but was still inefficient with his scoring (3-10 shooting, 2-5 from 3-point range) and had some head-scratching turnovers and ill advised help-defense that led to wide-open Georgia Tech 3-pointers. Garrison was swarmed by the Yellow Jackets’ 1-3-1 zone and couldn’t get the quality looks in volume to assert his size and skill dominance over Tech’s bigs.

How will these players respond against Notre Dame? They’ll have to ignore the Irish’s overall poor record, because this team can definitely hurt Carolina. They shoot the 3 extremely well, but have a short bench. If Garrison and the bigs can wear out star stretch-4 Nate Laszewski and cause him to miss shots in the second half, the Tar Heels should have the juice to pull this one out. Screw around and miss defensive assignments, and it’ll be 0-3 in ACC play.

Can the offense get running?

Jake pointed out that Carolina is struggling with yet another starting point guard. One of the consequences of this turnover is that UNC is not playing as fast as Roy Williams prefers. If Caleb Love and RJ Davis can push tempo without turning the ball over one out of every four possessions, Carolina should be able to wear out Notre Dame.

The Irish play a tight rotation. Only seven players average 10+ mpg. Mike Brey has his horses, and he’s gonna run them until they die. If this year’s team had a junior Joel Berry and senior Nate Britt handling the point, Carolina would probably win this game by 20 or more. But those two aren’t walking through that door.

Carolina’s size advantage over Notre Dame is substantial. Nate Laszewski is the scoring threat, but he cannot bang with Brooks, Bacot, and Sharpe. The only other big the Irish use is Juwan Durham, and he’s more support than threat. If UNC’s guards can feed the bigs with useable entry passes, they can start piling fouls on the posts and see who else Mike Brey dares to introduce.

Turnovers. They’ve got to stop

There’s not much analysis to throw at this one. Carolina is not shooting well enough from the floor, the 3-point line, or free throw line to make up for the absolutely enormous amount of turnovers they’re giving up.

UNC has averaged 16 turnovers over nine games so far. They’ve come from every position on the floor, but they’re most noticeable from our two freshman point guards. If they clean this up, a lot of the other issues in the offense will improve. Cleaner post feeds will lead to easier scoring opportunities. Live ball turnovers will lead to fewer opponent dunks/lay-ups. And generally, Roy Williams won’t have to worry about a vein exploding in his head due to absolute fury.