If you’re just now joining us — no, this isn’t the ACC Tournament. But with four of the Elite Eight coming from the Atlantic Coast Conference, it sure feels that way.
Sunday night’s matchup Between No. 1 North Carolina and No. 6 Notre Dame is the third meeting between the two conference foes, and the second time in 16 days. The Irish upset the Tar Heels, 80-76, in a fantastic game at the Joyce Center back on Feb. 6. Just over two weeks ago, Carolina took out their frustrations on the Irish in the ACC Tournament, whooping Notre Dame, 78-46.
The Irish have battled their way through the Big Dance, defeating Michigan, Stephen F. Austin on a last second tip-in, and holding on to beat Wisconsin on Friday night. Notre Dame has won all three games by a combined 13 points, and none of the games have been pretty. If the Irish hope to top the Tar Heels for a second time this season, the uglier the game, the better.
Carolina is peaking at the perfect time. The Heels dismantled Indiana on Friday, 101-86, after handling a good Providence team by 19 points in the second round. The Heels have many different ways to beat you, on Friday it was the long ball. So this time against the Irish, it could be pick your poison.
No. 6 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (24-11) vs. No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels (31-6)
When: 8:49 p.m. ET (Sunday)
Where: Philadelphia (East Region)
Line: North Carolina -10
Keys for Notre Dame
The Irish are making back-to-back Elite Eight appearances for the first time in almost 40 seasons. They are one of the more efficient teams in the country on offense, but can really struggle at times on D. However, so far this Tournament, Mike Brey’s team has been exceptional on the defensive end, only allowing more than 62 points one time, against Stephen F. Austin.
Irish point guard Demetrius Jackson is coming off a great game against the Badgers – 18 points, six assists, three steals, and almost had an identical box score against the Tar Heels back in February. The biggest key to the Notre Dame upset all those weeks ago was the five Irish players that scored in double figures. That same team-based performance will be needed Sunday night for the Irish to move on to the Final Four.
Keys for North Carolina
Carolina rode some hot, hot three-point shooting on Friday night to fuel its scoring outburst against Indiana. But what has been equally impressive, especially during March, has been the Tar Heels’ defense. Even though the Hoosiers scored 81 points in the loss, they shot just 41 percent from the field. Going back to the ACC Tournament, Carolina’s has limited its last six opponents to 44.4 percent shooting or worse. More of that type of defense is going to be needed to limit Notre Dame, especially when it comes to Jackson and the Irish’s other perimeter scorers.
The Heels also used their great interior presence and depth, led by Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks, to push the Hoosiers around. That figures to be a bit tougher Sunday night against Notre Dame’s Zach Auguste, who posted his 22nd double-double on the season against the Badgers. Look for the Heels to get out and look for more transition scoring opportunities against the slower Irish, and for senior guard Marcus Paige to continue his hot shooting.
What Brey has done with this Notre Dame team has been special, and their run in the NCAA Tournament thus far has been one of the better stories of March. Sadly, the Irish are running into a Carolina buzz saw. Not only do the Tar Heels possess an advantage in every aspect on the floor in terms of talent, but they also have the depth to keep the pressure on. Look for the ACC regular season and tournament champions to score enough points to punch their Final Four ticket.