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Notre Dame Basketball: North Carolina Preview

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The Irish have lost three in a row and it doesn’t get easier with a trip to Chapel Hill in store.

NCAA Basketball: Northern Iowa at North Carolina Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a rough last couple of weeks for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (17-5, 6-4 ACC). Just a week ago Monday, we were talking about Notre Dame’s potential for an ACC Championship. Since then, the Irish have lost three straight and haven’t looked good doing it. First was a 17-point home loss to Virginia, next was a lackluster performance at Georgia Tech and much of the same could be said of Monday night’s loss to Duke. In the midst of a three game losing streak the Irish have one of its most daunting tasks yet — a road game at North Carolina (20-4, 8-2 ACC).

Game Notes

  • North Carolina owns the all-time series 20-7
  • The Irish went 1-2 against the Tar Heels last season. Notre Dame took the regular season matchup in South Bend, while UNC took both post season matchups in the ACC Semis and the Elite Eight
  • Mike Brey is 3-5 all-time against UNC
  • The last time Notre Dame traveled to Chapel Hill they came away victorious, 71-70. It was Notre Dame’s first and only win at UNC
  • Due to a water shortage in Chapel Hill, the game has been moved to Greensboro
  • The last time Notre Dame played UNC in Greensboro was in the championship game of the 2015 ACC Tournament — Notre Dame won 90-82
  • Notre Dame is trying to avoid its first four game losing streak since the 2008-09 season when they lost six in a row
  • According to KenPom.com North Carolina is ranked No.11, while Notre Dame is down to No.26
  • The Tar Heels rank 8th in adjusted offensive efficiency and 31st in adjusted defensive efficiency
  • Junior forward Bonzie Colson has been named a finalist for the Karl Malone Award (Nation’s top PF)
  • Vegasinsider.com has North Carolina as an 8.5 favorite

Where: Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, NC

When: Sunday, February 5th, 2017, 1:00pm ET

How to Watch: ESPNews or WatchESPN

No.12 North Carolina Tar Heels (20-4, 8-2 ACC)

The Heels are coming off a narrow victory over Pittsburgh (1-8 in ACC play) and before that they were smacked by Miami on the road, so its safe to say UNC is not playing there best ball either right now. That said, Roy Williams is one of the best coaches in the sport, so he’ll have this group playing at a high level sooner rather than later.

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

It’s well documented by now that Notre Dame has a size disadvantage against every team they play. The Tar Heels will be no different as they present a tremendous challenge in the front court with 6’10” Kennedy Meeks and 6’9” Isaiah Hicks. The two seniors are loads on the inside and it will be tough for the Irish to keep off the boards.

The Heels are led by All-ACC candidate point guard Joel Berry III. In three games against the Irish last season Berry averaged 11 points, 5.6 assists and shot 54 percent from the field.

Junior wing Justin Jackson matches up well physically with Notre Dame’s V.J. Beachem. Jackson is UNC’s leading scorer at 18.7 points per game.

Senior guard Nate Britt and junior guard Theo Pinson can also come in and make an impact off the bench. Pinson has missed most of the season with an injury, which has pushed sophomore guard Kenny Williams into starting duties.

Three Weaknesses

Scoring Defense: While the Heels are ranked fairly high defensively on KenPom, they still give up their fair share of points. UNC is giving up 71.8 PPG this season, which ranks 154th nationally. Although at home this season the Heels are giving up just 66 PPG.

Three-point Shooting: North Carolina ranks pretty high in terms of three-point percentage (67th NCAA), but take a little dive into the numbers you’ll find three-point shooting isn’t a strong suit. The Tar Heels rank 143rd in threes made per game and 207th in three-pointers attempted per game. They also have only two guys who shoot more than 40 percent from three — Jackson and Berry.

Transition Defense: If Notre Dame can get out and run against the Heels, expect them to convert. UNC is letting its opponents shoot 75 percent at the rim in transition this season. The Irish are converting on 64 percent of its attempts in transition.

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

Three Strengths

Transition Offense: Like most Roy Williams coached teams, the Tar Heels love to get out and run. Carolina is shooting 70 percent at the rim in transition this season. 32 percent of Carolina’s initial shots attempts have been in transition this season — second most of any other initial shot attempt.

Rebounding: UNC is one of the best rebounding teams in the country. They rank 2nd nationally in rebounding percentage, hauling in 58 percent of misses. They also rank first in offensive rebounding percentage, grabbing 41 percent of their own misses. Notre Dame will have its hands full trying to keep UNC off the boards.

Inside Scoring: UNC is very efficient around the rim. They’re shooting almost 70 percent at the rim this season. Expect the Heels to pound it with Meeks and Hicks against Notre Dame’s small front line.

Tar Heels to Watch

Joel Berry III - 6’0”, Guard, Junior

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

Since has Marcus Paige graduated, Berry has taken the reigns of UNC’s offense. Berry is a prolific three-point shooter — Carolina’s best. Fifty-four percent of Berry’s shots have been three-pointers this season and he’s cashed in on 45 percent of them. The Tar Heels don’t shoot that many threes but when they do Berry is going to be one of the few taking them. He’s also leading the team in assists (3.9 APG) and free-throw percentage (89 percent). We should see another good matchup of point guards with Berry and Matt Farrell of Notre Dame.

Justin Jackson - 6’7”, Wing, Junior

NCAA Basketball: Maui Invitational- Championship Game- Wisconsin vs North Carolina Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

With the losses of Paige and Brice Johnson, Jackson has taken a more prominent scoring role within the Tar Heels’ offense. Jackson is UNC’s leading scorer and the fifth leading scorer among ACC players at 18.7 PPG. Last season he was averaging just 12.2 PPG. Along with Berry, Jackson is UNC’s other sharp shooter. Forty-six percent of his shots have been three-pointers this season and he’s converted on nearly 40 percent of them. V.J. Beachem will most likely garner the matchup with Jackson. As we all know, Beachem had a tough time defending against Duke on Monday.

Kennedy Meeks - 6’10”, Forward, Senior

NCAA Basketball: Maui Invitational-North Carolina at Chaminade Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Meeks is an absolute load at 6-foot-10, 260 lbs. He’s averaging 12.2 points and 9.9 rebounds per game. He’s going to get second chances against Notre Dame’s front court. Meeks is seventh in the nation in offensive rebounds per game, hauling in 3.9 per contest. Notre Dame is one of the worst teams at allowing offensive rounds as they rank 236th in that department. Meeks is extremely efficient around the rim. He’s shooting 70 percent at the rim this season. Expect Meeks to have a huge day against the likes of Martinas Geben and Bonzie Colson.

Pick to Click

T.J. Gibbs - 6’3”, Guard, Freshman

NCAA Basketball: IUPU - Ft. Wayne at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t really have any good reason for picking Gibbs here other than he should see more minutes after his performance against Duke. Against the Blue Devils, Gibbs scored 12 points, grabbed 3 rebounds and was 2-2 from three in just 19 minutes of action. On top of that he defended well against Luke Kennard and Grayson Allen. He’s averaging just 14.5 minutes per game, but we’ve seen flashes of greatness from the freshman. In his limited action Gibbs is shooting 44 percent from the floor and 42 percent from three-point and. After the Duke game Brey has spoke about using different lineups, so we might see more of Gibbs the rest of the way.

Prediction

North Carolina 84 - Notre Dame 69

Notre Dame is ripe for a butt-kicking. Notre Dame isn’t playing well right now and a trip to Chapel Hill is not a good remedy for their current situation. North Carolina just has too much size for Notre Dame to combat. Hicks and Meeks should have huge days. I expect Notre Dame to stay close for a little bit in the first half, but the Tar Heels will cruise from there on out.

UPDATE:

All stats from TeamRankings.com, HoopMath.com, KenPom.com, ESPN.com, UND.com , TheACC.com