Preview: No. 13 ND @ No. 18 North Carolina

The Irish (14-1, 2-0) needed two overtimes to defeat Georgia Tech and were hammered on the backboards by the Yellow Jackets. Now North Carolina (11-3, 1-0) offers an even more challenging front line Monday night in the Smith Center, where the Irish lost by two 10 months ago.

• Game 16: No. 13/12 Notre Dame (14-1, 2-0) @ No. 18/17 North Carolina (11-3, 1-0),
• Date: Jan. 5, 2015
• Place: Dean E. Smith Center; Chapel Hill, N.C.
• Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
• TV: ESPN
• Location: Chapel Hill, N.C.
• Conference: Atlantic Coast Conference
• Nickname: Tar Heels
• 2013-14 record: 24-10 (13-5/t3rd in ACC)

North Carolina Head Coach
Roy Williams (12th year at North Carolina) – Career record: 735-193 in 27 years overall (418-101 in 15 seasons at Kansas; 317-92 in 12th year at North Carolina).

Williams, 64, spent 10 seasons as Dean Smith’s assistant at North Carolina, helping lead the Tar Heels to the 1982 national championship. He took over as head coach at Kansas in 1988, shortly after the Jayhawks won the national title with Danny Manning leading the way. While at Kansas, Williams took the Jayhawks to four Final Fours with two runner-up finishes, one other Elite Eight appearance and three other Sweet 16 trips.

Williams flirted with succeeding Bill Guthridge as head coach at North Carolina in 2000, but remained in Kansas for three more seasons before finally taking over for former Notre Dame head coach Matt Doherty. Williams took the Tar Heels to three Final Fours in his first six years in Chapel Hill, winning national titles in 2004-05 and 2008-09 with another Final Four trip in 2007-08. North Carolina has not made the Final Four in the last five seasons.

North Carolina Scouting Report
As it is most years in Chapel Hill, this is a long, deep, extremely talented basketball team under Roy Williams with balance in the frontcourt and star power in the backcourt.

The Tar Heels overwhelm you with size, athleticism and depth up front, led by 6-foot-9, 280-pound Kennedy Meeks and 6-foot-9, 210-pound junior Brice Johnson.

Meeks, who leads the nation’s No. 2 rebounding team (45.2 per game), No. 3 offensive rebounding team (16.7 per game) and No. 8 rebounding-margin team (10.4), has added about five points to his scoring average of a year ago, tallying at a 12.8 clip with 9.1 rebounds per game. He leads the board-crashing Tar Heels with 46 offensive rebounds.

Johnson, who has fought to put on weight while Meeks has battled to reduce it, is scoring at an 11.5 rate while assisting Meeks on the backboards with 7.1 per game, including 33 offensive caroms.

The backcourt is sparked by the dynamic duo of 6-foot-1 junior Marcus Paige and 6-foot-5 junior J.P. Tokoto. Paige, who is averaging 13.4 points per game and was the popular pre-season choice to win the player of the year award in the ACC, has dipped from his 17.5 scoring mark of a year ago.

Tokoto is a springy, well-rounded player who is averaging 8.9 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.2 assists in less than 27 minutes per game.

Several others help the Tar Heels’ standouts, including 6-foot-8, 190-pound freshman Justin Jackson (9.9 ppg.) and 6-foot-8, 220-pound sophomore Isaiah Hicks (6.7 ppg., 3.4 rpg.).

The Tar Heels also get about 15 minutes of production per game from 5-foot-11 sophomore Nate Britt (second on the team in three-pointers with 11) and 6-foot-6 freshman Theo Pinson (3.3 ppg., 3.6 rpg., 2.4 apg.).

Big men Joel James (6-10, 280, Jr.) and Desmond Hubert (6-10, 225, Sr.) have contributed less than was anticipated during the pre-season.

Brey on Georgia Tech/North Carolina
“It’s an interesting preparation because it’s the same prep (as Georgia Tech), pounding on us with big bodies, second shots, pushing us underneath…We’re able to absorb some of those offensive rebounds when we’re shooting the ball a little bit better and we’re spreading you out.

“I hope we can get some more clean looks. I give Georgia Tech a lot of credit for us not shooting it well. I would hope we can move Carolina a little bit more and get some more looks from the three-point line.”

North Carolina-Notre Dame Preview
Balanced, long, athletic, deep…You know what you’re getting when you take on North Carolina. The problem Roy Williams seems to be running into in recent years is that the Tar Heels sometimes play and carry themselves like an NBA team during the dog days of a long season. Sometimes they come to play and are motivated; other times it’s as if the game of basketball is a chore.

That’s what happens sometimes when you stack your roster with five-star, NBA-type talent. The other result is a team that ranks third in the country in offensive rebounds per game at 16.8 and eighth in rebounding margin at 10.4 while allowing just a 34.8 percent conversion rate from the field, which is seventh nationally. Against a rugged early schedule, North Carolina ranks 16th nationally in scoring at 80.8 point per game.

So which Carolina team will the Irish get tonight? The talented, deep team that can overwhelm most opponents, or the one that loses to Butler in the Bahamas, allowing 15 more shots by the Bulldogs and 19 turnovers while missing 9-of-14 free throws in the second half?

Will it be the dominant team that overwhelmed Clemson Saturday night in its ACC-opener, or the one that Iowa limited to 4-of-23 from three-point range and 19-of-68 from the field (.279)?

When Meeks and Johnson are doing their thing up front. and Paige and Tokoto are on the move, the Tar Heels are as formidable as just about anybody in the country. But after leading the Irish by 15 in the last game of the 2013-14 regular season, Notre Dame drew close, took the lead and had a chance to win it at the end of a 63-61 loss that was a fitting cap on a 6-12 ACC season in which nine losses were decided by single digits.

The Irish are coming off a give-everything-you’ve-got performance in double overtime against Georgia Tech with both Pat Connaughton and Jerian Grant playing all 50 minutes, Demetrius Jackson logging 45 and Steve Vasturia 42. The Irish showed great resilience in upping their record to 2-0 in conference play, refusing to lose while getting hammered on the glass. But now they must take on the Tar Heels in the Dean Dome, and then host undefeated and No. 3-ranked Virginia Saturday.

Is reality about to hit, or are the No. 13/12 Irish on the verge of taking another step up? A split of the next two games would be significantly positive.

It’s quite the challenge in the aftermath of the energy expended, plus the huge rebounding differential (19) forged by Georgia Tech that North Carolina – winners of five straight-- is even more capable of achieving against Notre Dame’s hit-and-miss front line.

The fact that Connaughton, Vasturia, Zach Auguste and Austin Burgett played integral roles in helping the Irish out-score North Carolina 34-22 in the second half in the Smith Center 10 months ago bodes well.

The fact that North Carolina almost undoubtedly will hammer the Irish on the backboards likely means Notre Dame – winners of 10 straight -- puts up a good fight but can’t quite pull it off, particularly if the Tar Heels take the Irish a bit more seriously than they did a year ago.

• Pointspread: North Carolina by 8
• Prister’s Prediction: North Carolina 83, Notre Dame 71
• Prister’s record: 12-3 straight up; 3-4 vs. points


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