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UNC vs. Notre Dame: Three Things to Watch

Can the Heels avoid their first tragically bad loss of the season?

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at N.C. State Jaylynn Nash-USA TODAY Sports

After suffering yet another demoralizing loss Sunday afternoon, the Tar Heels have to recalibrate and travel to South Bend to take on Notre Dame. In the game against NC State, we witnessed a team that at times had good moments, but the really bad moments were too tough to overcome. The biggest issue was that UNC gave NC State 16 points off 13 turnovers, while the Wolfpack only turned over the ball three times. Yes, shooting was still rough in this game, but if they took care of the ball, we’re probably having a different conversation going into the game against the Irish.

This has been one of the more frustrating teams in recent memory, because it feels like every time they find an answer to a problem, they either take three steps backwards the next game, or they find a new problem to create. After losing five of their last six games, I think it’s safe to say that their NCAA Tournament hopes are essentially dead. However, they still have at least five more games to play this season, so let’s dive into the three keys to their showdown against the Fighting Irish.

Avoiding the trap

For those who may not remember, the Tar Heels faced off against Notre Dame earlier this season and won 81-64. UNC finished the game shooting 47.7% from the field and 42.1% from three, with Armando Bacot and RJ Davis doing most of the damage. Since that game, Notre Dame has lost 9 of their last 11 games, and one of their wins during that stretch was against an inconceivably bad Louisville team. While this sounds like the Heels could catch a break, here’s the problem: the Irish’s recent losses weren’t that bad.

Take their road game against Duke, for example: while the Blue Devils aren’t exactly Final Four contenders this season, they should’ve won by a pretty large margin. However, the Irish kept fighting throughout the second half and brought the game within two points before Tyrese Proctor’s free throws with two seconds left iced the game.

If the game against Duke wasn’t telling enough, a very similar game transpired in Charlottesville against #7 Virginia. The Fighting Irish battled hard and were within two points with 24 seconds remaining, but free throws from Kihei Clark were just enough to pull the Cavaliers out of a really bad situation. The moral of the story is that while the Tar Heels had no troubles putting away Notre Dame the last time these two teams met, the Irish were really close to having two big wins on the road prior to tomorrow night’s game. Their team has some toughness, which is something we didn’t see from the Tar Heels in the final minutes of the game against NC State.

Will D’Marco Dunn get more minutes?

Yesterday afternoon, CBB Analytics tweeted out the various UNC rotations that we have seen throughout the season along with their net rating. For combinations that played a minimum of 50 minutes, there was one name that stuck out among all players quite a bit: D’Marco Dunn.

In the top 10 rotation combinations, Dunn’s name shows up in each of the top six. The best combination that has played for the Tar Heels so far this season has been RJ Davis, D’Marco Dunn, and Puff Johnson, with a net rating of 100. It’s fascinating that someone who on paper hasn’t done a lot off of the bench statistically is such a positive for this team, but when you notice that he has only turned the ball over four times the entire season, there’s at least one critical stat that one could point to as a legitimate fact.

Based on the given information, it’s really easy to say that Dunn needs to play as many minutes as possible against Notre Dame, but will we see that is a whole other question. It is worth noting the Heels have lost four of the 11 games in which Dunn played 10+ minutes, so if I’m Hubert Davis, maybe this is something worth toying around with. I mean, things can’t possibly get worse, right?

RJ Davis needs to bounce back

After having an impressive month of January, RJ Davis has been up and down quite a bit. An easy source of blame is that he had a couple of injuries going into February, with one of them being a jammed finger.

Against the Wolfpack, Davis finished shooting 2-13 from the floor, and only knocked down one of his six three-point attempts. He also had four fouls in the game, so but found a way to stay on the floor for all 40 minutes of action.

Perhaps the most concerning phenomenon going into the Notre Dame game is the fact that Caleb Love’s play has gotten slightly better, while Davis had one of his worst performances of the season. It is worth noting that Davis had a 13-5-5 game against the Irish the last time these teams met, but once again, that was at the beginning of January. If the Heels want to win this game, their point guard will have to find a way to contribute more offensively, or they may finally earn their first egregiously bad loss of the season.


While you are here, be sure to check out our latest episode of the What in Tar Nation podcast.




Tanya Anderson, Julius Emanuel, and I discuss what happened in the game against NC State, how we are feeling about the team to this point in the season, and more. Be sure to subscribe, and don’t forget to leave us a five-star review!