Things don’t get any easier for the Fighting Irish as they must turn around and play North Carolina in the ACC Tournament
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are coming off an emotional come from behind win over Duke on Thursday afternoon, a game in which Notre Dame trailed by 16 with a little over 10 minutes to play. The gauntlet that is the ACC Tournament does not stop though as the Notre Dame basketball team must turn around and take on one of the nation’s best in No.7 North Carolina. The Irish did take down the Tar Heels earlier this season, but they did have the advantage of playing in front of a sold out Purcell Pavilion. The crowd at the Verizon Center in Washington D.C. will be a pro-Carolina crowd. Yes, the Irish did beat UNC last year in Greensboro in front of a pro-Carolina crowd, but Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton aren’t walking through that door anytime soon.
Some things are going to have to go right for the Irish to pull off another upset. North Carolina is going to have an enormous advantage on the glass as they have four guys, who receive regular minutes, that stand over 6’8″.
For reference I’ll compare the Irish to Duke, because they play similar styles and have similar depth. In both games against UNC this season Duke got severely out-rebounded on the defensive and offensive glass. The difference between the game Duke won and the game Duke lost, was defense. Yes, defense. In the Duke loss in Durham, UNC was able to pound it inside against a thin front line of Duke. In the game the Blue Devils won in Chapel Hill they made UNC settle for a lot of jumpers, something of which is not a strong suit of the Tar Heels.
The Irish must follow a similar game plan on Friday night in order to pull off another upset. If the Irish can get Marcus Paige and Co. to hoist up three-point shots, I’ll like the Irish chances. UNC ranks 307th in the country in team three-point percentage. ND is ranked 55th in the country in team three-point percentage. If Notre Dame can make it into a shooting match, it should play into their favor. The Irish are going to need to find a way to limit Carolina’s touches on the interior, because they are going to try and get Zach Auguste in foul trouble and force ND to go small.
On offense the Irish need to attack. They can’t be passive and play slow. The Irish will need to play with tempo. They’ll need to find a way to get Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks in foul trouble. Johnson and Meeks are UNC’s two best post players and will give the Tar Heels a decisive advantage on the boards, so the less minutes they see will be for the better for the Irish.
I said in my preview of the Duke game that the Irish will need to make shots because they weren’t going to win on the heels of their defense. And for about 30 minutes of the game yesterday, the Irish weren’t making shots. Everyone besides Matt Ryan was 0-for from three-point land, until V.J. Beachem caught fire in the last 10 minutes. The Irish won’t be able to afford a slow start shooting against Carolina. The farther they fall behind, the harder it will be to come back.
I keep saying Demetrius Jackson is going to come out of his offensive funk, and he hasn’t yet. So, this time I’m not going to say that in hopes of that he finally will. Although, the Irish are going to need Jackson to step up in a big way if they want to beat North Carolina.
Auguste has become a model of consistency over the season. He’s become a walking double-double. The Irish should pound it inside to him early, in an effort to get UNC’s bigs in foul trouble.
I really like what Matt Ryan has contributed off the bench over the last two contests. In those two games he’s shot a combined 7-12 from three and has scored 26 points. He’s become a little bit of instant offense off the bench. Look for him to play a key role on Friday night.
Overall, just looking at the matchup it is not a favorable one for the Irish. UNC has more depth, talent and height. I think Notre Dame is capable of pulling off yet again another upset, but things will need to fall their way for that to happen.