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Hoops Preview: Notre Dame At North Carolina

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Matt Farrell and the Irish are looking to snap a three-game losing streak.
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NOTRE DAME (17-6, 6-4) at NORTH CAROLINA (20-4, 8-2)

Where: Greensboro Coliseum (23,500)

Rankings: Notre Dame is ranked 20th in the AP poll; North Carolina is 12th.

Time/TV: 1 p.m./ESPNews

Matchup History: Sunday is the 28th meeting between Notre Dame and North Carolina. The Tar Heels hold a 20-7 advantage. North Carolina beat Notre Dame twice in postseason play last year, in the ACC Tournament and the NCAA Tournament.

PREGAME NOTES


Article Continues Below

New Site

Because of a water main break in Chapel Hill, N.C. — which forced the mayor to declare a state of emergency and the University of North Carolina to close its campus in the early afternoon Friday — the game was rescheduled to Sunday at 1 p.m. at the Greensboro Coliseum.

The Notre Dame team did not travel to Chapel Hill, N.C., as scheduled Friday.

The Greensboro Coliseum is located 51 miles away in from Chapel Hill. The arena played host to Notre Dame’s 2015 ACC tournament championship victory over the Tar Heels.

New Starting Lineup?

In search of an offensive spark, Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey said the Irish are mulling a change to the starting lineup. Notre Dame has gone with the same starting five — guards Steve Vasturia and Matt Farrell, wing V.J. Beachem and forwards Bonzie Colson and Martinas Geben — for each of its first 23 games this year. But lackluster efforts in losses to Virginia, Georgia Tech and Duke has Brey thinking about going small, inserting a fifth guard into the starting lineup and removing Geben.

That decision was not revealed by Brey on Thursday, and the final call might come down to shoot-around on Saturday in Chapel Hill. His options: freshman guard T.J. Gibbs, sophomore guard Rex Pflueger or senior forward Austin Torres.

“We’re going to look at all those things and try and figure out what’s the best way to go,” Brey said.

Brey has also kicked around the idea of getting freshman forward John Mooney, who can stretch the floor with his shooting, more minutes Saturday.

Snapping A Skid

Facing one of their biggest challenges of the season, the Irish seemed relaxed going through their pre-practice routine Thursday. Notre Dame is looking to snap a three-game losing streak, and another loss would be its fifth defeat in six games after starting ACC play 5-0. The Irish now face the defending national runner-up Tar Heels, who are coming off an 80-78 victory over Pittsburgh on Tuesday. UNC is winners of eight of its last nine games and sits in first-place in the 15-team ACC.

The Irish are looking for revenge after the Tar Heels took both postseason matchups in 2015-16. Snapping that losing streak and getting back into the win column starts with stopping the bleeding.

“They’re pretty stable and come in every day, and that’s all we can do right now, see if we can get one to get going again,” Brey said of the team.

Rebounding A Concern

North Carolina crashes the offensive boards better than any team in the country. According to KenPom, the Tar Heels have the highest offensive rebounding rate (42.1 percent) in the nation, led senior forwards Kennedy Meeks (17.2%) and Isaiah Hicks (9.3%). UNC has by far the largest rebounding margin in the country at +13.5.

Notre Dame was playing small in the second half of the East Regional final last season against North Carolina as the Tar Heels held a double-digit lead. The Irish made a run to cut into the lead with a bigger lineup. Will a similar strategy be employed by Brey on Saturday?

“That’s a tricky one, because we do want to play small sometimes and downshift,” Brey said. “…It’s a group responsibility. Are we scoring enough to absorb a couple putbacks is how I always look at it when we’re downshift.”

Offensive Woes

Notre Dame ranks eighth in the ACC in field goal percentage (46.5), but its effective field goal percentage is 54.3 because of its ability to shoot 3-pointer. That hasn’t been the case in the last three games, as Notre Dame is under its season eFG% average in the losses. From long range, the Irish are just 17 for their last 56 (30.3 percent).

“We’ve been turning the ball over more than we’re used to doing,” Beachem said. “But our spacing could be a lot better, which allows us to attack from different places, get more open shots. That’s something we really haven’t had lately.”

Though it pulled through with an 80-78 win Tuesday over Pittsburgh, North Carolina slipped to 32nd in the defensive efficiency measure (95.3). In six of the last seven halves, opponents are shot 48 percent or better against the Tar Heels.

"I don’t know what I’m going to do, but some way somehow I have to figure out a way to do a better job coaching on the defensive end of the floor,” UNC head coach Roy Williams said.

Vasturia’s Slump

The senior guard has been held under his season average of 14.5 points in four straight games, including just 5 against Georgia Tech and 7 against Duke. Brey called the 6-foot-6, 212-pounder a very “low maintenance” player, able to pull himself out of slumps. “He knows that I have his back and he’s going to be back in there and we need you,” Brey said. Vasturia himself also has the confidence to get himself rolling again.

“I know that myself playing well is going to help this team win,” Vasturia said, “so I know I’ve got to be better and I’m looking forward to having a chance to play on Saturday.”

His teammates have his back as well.

“He’s doing well, he’s vibing well,” Colson said of Vasturia. “He’s enjoying his last year here and we need him to just stay locked in and do what he does.”

LINEUPS

Projected Notre Dame Starters:

35 Bonzie Colson (6-5, 225, Jr.) – 15.6 ppg, 10.6 rpg

3 V.J. Beachem (6-8, 201, Sr.) – 14.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg

32 Steve Vasturia (6-6, 212, Sr.) – 14.1 ppg, 3.3 apg

5 Matt Farrell (6-1, 178, Jr.) – 13.9 ppg, 5.5 apg

23 Martinas Geben (6-10, 255, Jr.) – 3.8 ppg, 4.2 rpg

Top Reserves

2 T.J. Gibbs (6-3, 200, Fr.) – 5.3 ppg, 1.4 rpg

0 Rex Pflueger (6-6, 202, So.) – 4.7 ppg, 2.2 rpg

4 Matt Ryan (6-7, 228, So.) – 4.0 ppg, 1.1 rpg

Projected North Carolina Starters:

2 Joel Berry (6-0, 195, Jr.) – 15.0 ppg, 3.9 apg

3 Kennedy Meeks (6-10, 260, Sr.) – 12.6 ppg, 9.5 rpg

4 Isaiah Hicks (6-9, 242, Sr.) – 12.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg

44 Justin Jackson (6-8, 210, Jr.) – 18.7 ppg, 4.8 rpg

24 Kenny Williams (6-4, 180, So.) - 6.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg

Top Reserves:

5 Tony Bradley (6-11, 240, Fr.) – 7.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg

1 Theo Pinson (6-6, 211, Jr.) – 6.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg (Out with rolled right ankle)

0 Nate Britt (6-1, 175, Sr.) – 5.0 ppg, 2.6 apg

PREDICTION

North Carolina 86, Notre Dame 81

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