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UNC vs Notre Dame: Three Things to Watch

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Matt Farrell, exhaustion, and production from the bench

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

North Carolina welcomes Notre Dame to the Dean Dome tonight. The Tar Heels, riding a three game win streak, will take the court for the third time in five days. Notre Dame, on a two game win streak of their own, will be participating in their second contest in 3 days. The Irish, currently sitting in 11th place at 5-7 in ACC place will also be looking for a marquee victory for their tournament resume.

Of course, after an emotionally draining victory over perpetual rival Duke and a statement win over the boys in Raleigh, you’re probably thinking, “What has NOT been covered, analyzed, or discussed about UNC this weekend?” It’s a valid question. You may even be, dare I say, suffering from college basketball fatigue. Nonetheless, we here at Tar Heel Blog owe you serious answers to semi-serious queries. On with the show!

Matt Farrell

In total, Farrell has missed 5 ACC games. Notre Dame’s record in those games is a paltry 1-4. With Matt Farrell, they are 4-3, including Saturday’s win over Florida State. Still not great, but at least a threat. While Bonzie Colson received the pre-season attention, Matt Farrell is the engine that drives this team.

In five ACC games without Farrell, the Irish averaged 62.6 points per game. With Farrell in the other seven contests they are averaging 75.7 points — an increase of 13.1 points per game. If that doesn’t concern you, then let’s dive a little deeper.

Farrell is averaging 15.9 points and 5.1 assists in his seven ACC games. Using extremely fuzzy math, and assuming those assists led to only two-point field goals without any free throws, then Farrell has accounted for 26 points per game when he was on the floor. At a minimum, Farrell is responsible for 33% of Notre Dame’s overall offensive production. Oh yeah, he also leads the ACC with 3.1 made three pointers per game.

In case you forgot, no, Farrell did not play when the Heels visited South Bend. I’d expect his absolute best effort tonight.

Exhausting All Options

As mentioned, UNC will be playing their third game in five days. This is not breaking news and has been a point of emphasis in various media outlets. If you think it is absolutely asinine that any team is subjected to that kind of treatment, you’re not alone. North Carolina, the defending ACC and NCAA champions, is the only ACC team to earn this honor in the 2017-2018 conference season.

The last time this happened was 27 years ago, in 1991, when they played three games in four days. That season, UNC played NC State on back-to-back nights due to their first game being postponed when the first Gulf War kicked off. Yes, it took a literal war to force that situation.

Before that, 1980 was last time that the Heels were actually scheduled to play three games in such a short span. The shot clock and three-point shot weren’t even part of the game then.

OK. Rant over. Now why does this matter?

UNC’s five starters over the last two games played 333 out of 400 possible minutes. As a collective group, Theo Pinson, Luke Maye, Joel Berry, Kenny Williams, and Cameron Johnson averaged 33.3 minutes against Duke and NC State. Individually, all five recorded minutes that exceeded their conference averages. Pinson was the only one of the five to play less than 30 minutes against either team. He played “only” 29 minutes against NC State.

That is sustainable in a tournament format, where you are conditioned to play two games in three days. It’s this third game where the fatigue can and should begin to show. Especially when the opponent has played fewer games than you during that span. Aside from the physical exhaustion, there are other kinds of fatigue that impact the game.

Maintaining the same urgency and emotion displayed against two in-state opponents can be difficult. Against a Notre Dame team fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives looking to avenge their early January loss, it will take every ounce of energy the Heels have to stave off the upset.

The same can be said having to prepare for a third team in such a short window. Remembering a new scouting report and preparing for Notre Dame’s own unique style of play compared to the Wolfpack and Blue Devils brings its own certain mental efforts. If you think that’s silly, consider UNC had 19 turnovers and allowed to NC State shoot 54.7% from the floor ( 53.8% from three) less than 48 hours after the comeback against Duke.

Bench Production

On Thursday and Saturday, only two players reached double figure minutes off the bench. Garrison Brooks played 12 minutes against Duke, and Brandon Robinson logged 10 minutes against NC State. Again, those numbers will work in the NCAA tournament, but more is going to be needed in the next five games to improve on their current projection as a #3 seed.

To be fair, Garrison Brooks, Seventh Woods, Sterling Manley, Brandon Robinson, and Andrew Platek deserve some serious kudos for their efforts. They have made the most out of their short-lived time on the court while giving the starters some much needed, if minimal, rest in two very competitive games.

In just 34 combined minutes against NC State, those five totaled 12 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 block. Against Duke, Brooks grabbed 5 rebounds in his 12 minutes. That was as many as future 2018 NBA lottery pick Wendell Carter Jr had in 28 minutes. And check out this nugget from Adrian Atkinson.

Hopefully this matchup will provide a little flexibility for the bench to gain some increased minutes before a much needed recovery period. Besides, tonight the starting five may actually need them if the Heels want to push their winning streak to four games.