• Game 23: No. 2 North Carolina (19-3, 8-1) @ Notre Dame (15-7, 6-4)
• Date: Feb. 6, 2016
• Place: Purcell Pavilion; Notre Dame, Ind.
• Time: 7:00 ET
• TV: ESPN
• Opponent nickname: Tar Heels
• Head coach: Roy Williams (769-205 overall: 418-101 in 15 years @ Kansas; 351-104 in 13th year @ North Carolina)
• Conference: ACC
• Location: Chapel Hill, N.C.
• 2014-15 record (26-12, 11-7)
BAD ‘CATCH’ FOR IRISH
When Notre Dame visited Miami Wednesday night, the Irish were catching a Hurricane squad that was coming off an 85-69 loss to a North Carolina State team that had lost seven of its first eight ACC games.
A motivated Miami shot the lights out at BankUnited Center Wednesday night in a 79-70 victory over the Irish.
Now Notre Dame catches a North Carolina team that was riding a 12-game winning streak and had been undefeated in ACC play heading into Monday night when the Tar Heels fell at Louisville, 71-65, following eight straight ACC victories, six of which were by double digits.
Notre Dame’s timing of opponents to start the “back nine” of the ACC schedule has been a bit unfortunate. On the flip side, Saturday night’s prime-time opponent – North Carolina – has lived the charmed life as it pertains to the order of opponents so far this season.
The Tar Heels’ “back nine” is just as challenging as Notre Dame’s, which means both have had a soft conference slate up to this point. Five of Notre Dame’s six conference wins have come against Boston College, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, who are a combined 9-39 in the conference.
North Carolina, meanwhile, has victories over Georgia Tech, Florida State, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, Boston College and North Carolina State. Combined ACC record: 14-44.
North Carolina, in rising to No. 2 in the AP poll before falling to Louisville, has yet to play Virginia (7-3), Pittsburgh (6-3), Miami (6-3) and Duke (5-4) with the Irish (6-4) on tap tonight.
As if North Carolina doesn’t have enough motive, the Tar Heels lost to Notre Dame in Chapel Hill and Greensboro last year, the first at home and the second at the in-state ACC tournament site.
“Going into last year, I think our record was 4-22 against that program, and to have won two in a row in the state of North Carolina is a little mind blowing,” said Irish head coach Mike Brey.
“If we make it three in a row, maybe the earth will rotate the wrong way on its axis.”
SCOUTING THE TAR HEELS
It’s another talented, long, deep team for head coach Roy Williams as the Tar Heels employ nine players with at least 10 minutes of playing time per game, four players at least 6-foot-8, and a two-senior/three-junior upperclassmen contribution.
The standout has been 6-foot-9 senior Brice Johnson, who is on a streak of four straight double-doubles. Early in ACC play, he had a remarkable 39-point, 23-rebound game against Florida State. Johnson averages 16.7 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. He’s shooting 62.4 percent from the field and 78.8 percent from the free-throw line.
Senior Marcus Paige missed the first six games of the season due to injury, and then returned for a 20-point performance in a victory over then-No. 2 Maryland. Two games later, he tossed in 20 points in a road loss to Texas, and exploded for 30 points a couple of weeks later at Florida State.
Since then, however, Paige has had a woeful six-game stretch, shooting just 21.0 percent from the field (12-of-57) and 13.8 percent from three-point range (5-of-36) while scoring just 36 points (6.0 per game).
Sophomore Joel Berry II teams up with Paige in the backcourt, averaging 12.4 points. Berry paces the Tar Heels in three-pointers with 39 and is an 81.4 percent free-throw shooter.
When Johnson isn’t dominating the paint for the Tar Heels, he gets plenty of support from 6-foot-8 sophomore Justin Jackson (12.0 ppg., 3.8 rpg.), 6-foot-9 junior Kennedy Meeks (11.3 ppg., 6.3 rpg.) and 6-foot-8 junior Isaiah Hicks (9.8 ppg., 4.7 rpg.). Meeks is shooting 57.9 percent from the field while Hicks is converting at a 63.8 percent rate.
Nate Britt and Theo Pinson come off the bench to combine for another 12 points per game.
North Carolina’s 84.9 scoring average is eighth in the country. The Tar Heels also are among the nation’s top 60 in free-throw percentage at 72.9. But they’re abominable from three-point range, particularly with Paige in the midst of a frigid streak. The Tar Heels convert just 30.2 percent of their three-point attempts, which ranks tied for 331st out of 351 teams.
Irish head coach Mike Brey is confident his team will come ready to play and compete at a high level.
“I don’t think there’s any intimidation factor in this program,” Brey said. “Guys are exited to compete against (North Carolina).”
GAME DAY EXTRAVAGANZA
The last time ESPN’s College GameDay came to Notre Dame for a basketball game – Feb. 9, 2013 -- the Irish claimed a 104-101 five-overtime victory over Louisville. The game tipped off a 9 p.m. ET and lasted to nearly 12:30 a.m.
“What a great thing to be hosting College Game Day,” Brey said. “That’s respect for our program and how we’ve done things here. I think it’s extremely powerful to host it. It will be an unbelievably frenzied atmosphere.
“Certainly, we gave College Game Day the best game in history the last time they were here. Maybe that’s why they’re back. We give them a good show, like Rocky, right?”
Brey knows it’s going to be a long day leading up to the 7 p.m. ET tipoff, but he’s determined to “embrace the circus” atmosphere that comes with hosting College GameDay.
It’s a huge opportunity, not only to bounce back from a road loss to Miami, but to add to a resume during a difficult second half to the ACC season that offers four road games out of the next five after Saturday.
“I don’t think we’ll over-analyze the motivational aspect of it,” Brey said. “Our guys will be very fired up. The buildup to College GameDay all day is awesome. It’s great what they do.
“I hope our fans embrace it because it just doesn’t happen (very often). I’m thrilled that we’ve had three here in my tenure. It says something about the program.”
Notre Dame’s priorities against North Carolina start with the front line.
“Rebounding the ball because they’re so big and keeping them off the offensive boards,” Brey said. “They pound away with four-to-five big bodies. We’re going to have to help our big guys when they feed the post.
“Our block-outs are going to be such a key. Our guards are going to have to help us rebound, and then a key is transition defense.”
Pointspread: North Carolina by 3
Prister/O’Malley Prediction: Notre Dame 85, North Carolina 82