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HOOPS Preview: Notre Dame At North Carolina

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Sophomore wing D.J. Harvey scored nine points while helping short-handed Notre Dame knock of Boston College 69-66 on Saturday.
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

NOTRE DAME (11-5, 1-2 ACC) AT NORTH CAROLINA (12-4, 2-1 ACC)

Where: Dean Dome (Chapel Hill, N.C.)

Rankings: North Carolina is ranked No. 13 in the Associated Press poll.

TV/Time: ESPN, 9 p.m. ET.

Series Facts: The Tar Heels lead the all-time series 23-7.

Last Meeting: North Carolina won 83-66 on Feb. 12, 2018 in Chapel Hill.

After picking up its first ACC win of the year, Notre Dame travels to North Carolina to take on the Tar Heels in a nationally televised contest. The Fighting Irish defeated BC 69-66 this past Saturday with just six players, while the Tar Heels are coming off the worst home loss in the Roy Williams era (83-62 to Louisville on Saturday).

Blue & Gold Illustrated previews both teams before they meet tonight.

NOTRE DAME OVERVIEW

For the Notre Dame program and the Irish faithful, the hits just keep coming. At least that’s how it probably felt on Saturday leading into a matchup against Boston College.

It was first learned that junior forward Juwan Durham would not play due to a lingering ankle injury he suffered in the ACC opener against Virginia Tech. Then a bigger blow was suffered when junior guard T.J. Gibbs fell ill shortly before the contest and could not participate.

That left head coach Mike Brey with six players at his disposal, unless he wanted to insert walk-on Liam Nelligan or take off the redshirt for freshman forward Chris Doherty, meaning the majority would play around 35 minutes or more. Freshmen Nate Laszewski and Dane Goodwin entered the starting lineup alongside classmate Prentiss Hubb, junior forward John Mooney and sophomore wing D.J. Harvey.

Notre Dame still was able to find a way.

The Irish controlled the Eagles for much of the contest, but faced a strong wave of adversity when Boston College guard Ky Bowman stole a pass and took it to the bucket for two points and a lead at 66-65 with less than 20 seconds remaining.

Boston College was able to gain possession after a block with around 11 seconds left, but big man Nik Popovic was called for traveling giving the Irish new life. The ball eventually found Hubb after the inbounds pass, and the freshman took it to the hole and drew the foul.

Despite only shooting just one free throw in the previous five games, Hubb calmly hit both from the charity stripe to push the Irish to an eventual 69-66 win. Mooney led the way with 27 points and 12 rebounds, while Hubb put together his best performance in South Bend with 16 points, six rebounds and five assists.

Goodwin and Harvey each added nine points to the winning effort, and Laszewski finished with eight points of his own. Overall, though, Notre Dame still struggled to shoot (34.4 percent), but some of that can be chalked to adjusting to playing with a very small rotation.

Notre Dame needed a win in the worst way and was able to do so even with less than ideal circumstances.

NORTH CAROLINA OVERVIEW

Much like every season, the Tar Heels and Williams entered the 2018-219 campaign with Final Four aspirations.

Even after losing the likes of point guard Joel Berry and do-it-all wing Theo Pinson, North Carolina returned a preseason All-America selection in senior forward Luke Maye and two more of the team’s top five scorers from 2017-18 in fifth-year senior forward Cameron Johnson and senior guard Kenny Williams. On top of that, Williams reeled in five-star prospects Nassir Little (wing) and Coby White (guard).

The Tar Heels enter tonight’s matchup ranked No. 13 nationally following a 21-point loss to Louisville at home their last time out, but the team remains dangerous moving forward in the ACC.

North Carolina holds major wins over Gonzaga (home) and North Carolina State (away), plus a neutral court win over UCLA. Their other three losses have come to Texas in Las Vegas, currently undefeated Michigan in Ann Arbor and a top-15 Kentucky team in Chicago.

Johnson currently leads the Tar Heels in scoring through 16 games, averaging 15.8 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. Maye is on pace for another double-double campaign at 14.4 points and 10.0 rebounds per contest.

White has impressed during his freshman campaign so far, posting 14.0 points and 3.8 assists per game. Williams does a little bit of everything for he Heels, notching averages of 8.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.9 assists per contest, while sophomore forward Garrison Brooks (8.8 points and 5.6 rebounds per game) rounds out the starting lineup.

Little (9.7 points and 4.3 rebounds per game) has provided a strong option off the bench, along with junior guard Seventh Woods (3.9 points and 3.0 assists per contest), junior guard Brandon Robinson (3.5 points per outing) and freshman guard Rechon Black (3.3 points per game).

North Carolina’s frontcourt depth took a hit earlier this year when big man Sterling Manley (4.4 points and 4.3 rebounds per contest) went down with a knee injury and doesn’t appear likely to return against the Irish. Sophomore Brandon Huffman (1.5 points per outing) could see some minutes down low, while sophomore guard Andrew Platek could do the same in the backcourt if Williams wants to go deep into the bench.

GAME OUTLOOK

The Tar Heels remain consistent with their style of play and strengths under Williams in recent years.

North Carolina ranks seventh nationally in points per game (88.2) and 18th in adjusted offensive efficiency, while playing at the third quickest average possession length (13.6 seconds) per KenPom.com. The Tar Heels continue to clean up the boards ranking second nationally in total rebounds per game (44.1) with an edge of 10.3 boards per game over their opponents.

Even though the team ranked 232nd in points allowed (73.4), North Carolina is 12th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency.

What does all of this mean? Well, Notre Dame is going to have to be on their A game in order to pull off the upset in Chapel Hill.

Prediction

North Carolina 81, Notre Dame 69

I just don’t see how the Irish can keep up with the North Carolina for 40 minutes. North Carolina’s loss to Louisville should have the Tar Heels a little more locked in for this one.

I could see this one turning into a similar outcome to last year’s meeting in Chapel Hill where it remains close for much of the contest, but North Carolina eventually pulls away over the final 10 minutes.

If Notre Dame is to pull this one off, the Irish will need to shoot lights out from deep.

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