UNC Basketball: Three Things to Watch vs. Notre Dame


The UNC basketball team is coming off a dominant win against Clemson and will look to continue their five-game winning streak tonight when they play 14th ranked Notre Dame.  The 19th ranked Tar Heels have played very well the last few weeks (though most games have been against relatively weak competition), and have shown flashes of brilliance in the first month and a half of the season.  Now, the Heels turn their attention to the Irish, who were tapped to finish 7th in a very good ACC this year.

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There have been numerous story lines so far this season: the search for a consistent big-man and Marcus Paige‘s struggles to name just two.  But what should you focus on as Carolina tries to extend their winning streak and improve to 4-1 against ranked opponents this year?

1.  How will Marcus Paige impact the game?

Jan 3, 2015; Clemson, SC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels guard Marcus Paige (5) looks to pass the ball while being defended by Clemson Tigers guard Rod Hall (12) during the second half at Littlejohn Coliseum. Tar Heels won 74-50. Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Paige’s early season struggles have been well documented.  He has shot just 37% from the field this year and has not really taken over games in the second half like he did for much of last year.  But even though he hasn’t been the great shooter he was last year, he has still made his mark on games.  For instance, against East Carolina he had six assists, and against UNC Greensboro he had seven rebounds.  He scored just 13 points in those games combined, but helped Carolina to victory nonetheless.  Marcus Paige may not score 25 points against Notre Dame, or single-handedly win the game for the Heels in the last minutes.  But, at some point in the game, he will do something (make a great pass, force a turnover, hustle after a loose ball) that will help UNC.

2.  Can Carolina stop Notre Dame’s offense?

Notre Dame has a great offense.  They are 3rd in the nation with 85.9 points per game, and first in field goal percentage as they have shot better than 55% from the field so far this year.  Carolina’s defense has not been spectacular, and are 131st in the country in points allowed 90th in steals.  If Carolina is going to beat the Irish, they have to win the rebound battle (ND is 162nd in rebounds this year) and contain Notre Dame’s top scorers Jerian Grant and Zach Auguste.  This will be difficult, since the Irish shoot so well, especially beyond the 3-point arc, where they have shot better than 40 percent.  The Heels have to be better at contesting shots and not giving up open looks than they have up to this point if they are going to stop Notre Dame.

3.  Can Carolina control the paint?

Nov 27, 2014; Paradise Island, BAHAMAS; North Carolina Tar Heels forward Kennedy Meeks (3) shoots during the game against the UCLA Bruins at Imperial Arena at Atlantis Resort. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

As I alluded to earlier, Notre Dame is not a great rebounding team.  They also do not get a lot of points inside, as Auguste is their only big-man averaging more than ten points per game.  The Irish get just 52.8 percent of their points from 2-pointers, compared to 60.3% for Carolina.  If Carolina can get extra possessions from rebounds and keep Notre Dame from getting easy points in the paint, they should be able to win.  This means that one, if not both, of Carolina’s big-men (either Kennedy Meeks or Brice Johnson) needs to step up and have a solid game.  Based on their play so far this season, I feel confident that at least one will answer the bell.