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Notre Dame Basketball: North Carolina Tar Heels Game Preview

It’s a quick turnaround for the red hot Fighting Irish at North Carolina

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

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have officially broken out of a massive slump and won two-straight games by double digits. During those two games they drained 26 threes behind Matt Farrell and T.J. Gibbs, who both averaged 23.5 points. The win streak is on, and the Fighting Irish are playing with confidence again.

Of course, in the ACC you never get to enjoy success for too long. On Monday, the Fighting Irish will travel to Chapel Hill to battle with the North Carolina Tar Heels, whom they nearly beat at home a few weeks ago. North Carolina is riding a three-game win streak of its own, but both teams will have just one day of rest after playing games on Saturday.

Quick Facts:

  • This is the 30th meeting between Notre Dame and North Carolina, with the Tar Heels leading the all-time series 23-7
  • T.J. Gibbs has scored in double figures in 13 straight games
  • Martinas Geben has scored in double figures in nine of the last 13 games, and pulled down nine or more rebounds in 10 of the last 14 games
  • This is the second of three Saturday-Monday turnarounds for the Fighting Irish, and they play on the road on the second leg every time
  • Notre Dame scored 180 points combined over the last two games, a new program best for a two-game ACC stretch
  • With one more win this season, the senior class of Bonzie Colson, Matt Farrell, Martinas Geben, Matt Gregory and Austin Torres will become the winningest class in school history

WHEN: Monday, Feb. 12, 7:00 p.m. ET

WHERE: Dean Smith Center, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

HOW TO WATCH: ESPN Big Monday national broadcast with Sean McDonough, Jay Bilas and Allison Williams. Also available on the WatchESPN app.

Notre Dame Basketball Radio Network with Jack Nolan and Zach Hillesland. Available locally on WSBT AM 960/FM 96.1, worldwide on WatchND.tv and via any network affiliate.

North Carolina Tar Heels (19-7, 8-5 ACC)

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

The Tar Heels narrowly escaped Purcell Pavilion with a win a month ago against a Fighting Irish team facing the worst of its injury struggles at the time. North Carolina shot just 28.6 percent from behind the arc and got out-rebounded by eight but still managed to hold on 69-68. Two weeks later the Tar Heels fell into a three-game losing streak in which they shot 31.7 percent from deep.

A blowout win against Pittsburgh got North Carolina back on track, and consecutive wins against rivals Duke and NC State showed how dangerous the team can still be.

The defending national champs rely heavily on their veterans Luke Maye and Joel Berry II. The junior forward Maye is averaging 18.7 points and 10.5 rebounds per game, with senior guard Berry adding 17.4 points and three assists per game. In North Carolina’s win against NC State on Saturday, Maye scored 33 points on 15-22 shooting and added 17 rebounds.

Senior forward Theo Pinson also plays a critical role for the Tar Heels. He averages 8.7 points and 6.0 rebounds, but leads the team in assists with 4.5 per game. Junior guard Kenny Williams has come on strong as of late, averaging 15.3 points on 55 percent shooting from three-point range during the team’s three-game win streak. Graduate guard Cameron Johnson also gets 13.1 points and 4.8 rebounds per game.

Experience is North Carolina’s most clear advantage, which is why its inconsistent play has been a bit of a surprise. The Tar Heels rebound the ball well and shoot 46.5 percent from the floor this season, but they also have a negative turnover margin, struggle from the free throw line at times, and are mediocre from three-point range at 36.9 percent shooting. The bottom line is that North Carolina is beatable when pressured defensively and forced to take too many deep shots.

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

Tar Heel to Watch:

Luke Maye, F, Junior

Maye has been one of the more versatile forwards in the country for the Tar Heels this season. At 6-foot-8 and 240 pounds, he has the size to compete in the paint and a great jump shot from outside to go along with it. Maye has been held below his scoring average in all but two of the seven losses by the Tar Heels this season. On the year, however, Maye is shooting 52.4 percent from the floor and 47.6 percent from three, but he shoots just 62.2 percent from the free throw line. Stopping North Carolina starts with forcing Maye into tough shots and not being afraid to be physical with him.

Irish X-Factor:

Rex Pflueger, G, Junior

Pflueger is coming off a career-high 19 points against Florida State on Saturday and has a combined 32 over the last two games. The 6-foot-6, 206-pound junior needs to stay aggressive and keep knocking down clutch shots if Notre Dame wants to extend its winning streak. The Fighting Irish need a more consistent third scorer and Pflueger can absolutely be that guy. Pflueger’s defense will be even more critical than his offensive game though. Getting out to contest Berry, Williams, and Maye and making them work to get open shots will wear them out.

Prediction:

Notre Dame 78 - North Carolina 70

The Fighting Irish have given me a reason to believe they can beat any ACC team after the last two wins. When they shoot the ball as well as they have, this looks like a team that nobody would want to see in the NCAA Tournament. The only problem is that Notre Dame would either have to win out or win the conference tournament to make it there.

North Carolina has been a little overrated this year, in my opinion. They’re actually very similar to what Notre Dame should have been this year with Colson, but he’s even better than Maye. The Fighting Irish would be the better team if the injury bug never bit, but they’ve shown they’re still dangerous in spite of that. I’m betting that chip on their shoulder is going to lead to their biggest win of the season at North Carolina.