• Game 36: No. 6 Notre Dame (24-11) vs. No. 1 North Carolina (31-6)
• Date: March 27, 2016
• Place: Wells Fargo Center; Philadelphia, Pa.
• Time: 8:49 EDT
• TV: TBS
• Opponent nickname: Tar Heels
• Location: Chapel Hill, N.C.
• Head coach: Roy Williams (27th year): 781-208 overall (363-107 in 12th year at North Carolina; 418-101 in 15 years at Kansas).
Williams is shooting for his eighth trip to the Final Four. He won national titles with North Carolina in 2005 and 2009.
It will have been just 16 days since Notre Dame and North Carolina last met, and it wasn’t pretty.
The Tar Heels turned a one-point first-half lead into a 19-point halftime advantage. They extended their scoring run to 24-0 to start the second half en route to a 78-47 obliteration in the semifinals of the ACC tournament in Washington, D.C.
So how do the Irish put the reality of the last meeting with the Tar Heels in the rearview mirror while trying to derive some benefits from the one-sided outcome?
“Drawing an analogy from last year, Duke beat us by 30 in Cameron, and we turned around and beat them in the semifinals of the ACC tournament,” said the always-optimistic Mike Brey.
“I’ve used that analogy, and these guys have been really tough and resilient.”
The Irish also can go back to Feb. 6 when they turned the basketball over just two times in an 80-76 victory over the Tar Heels at Purcell Pavilion.
How did Notre Dame beat North Carolina that first week of February?
“We got consecutive stops,” said Irish point guard Demetrius Jackson, “and we protected the basketball. Guys flying around, Zach (Auguste) and V.J. (Beachem) getting defensive rebounds, which really helped us.
“We got good shots and good looks. We took really good care of the ball and we were sharp. We were attacking and everything was just kind of downhill.”
After missing out on an opportunity to advance to the Final Four a year ago, Brey has no doubt his team will be focusing on the North Carolina game on March 27, not the one on March 11.
“They’ll move on,” Brey said. “As a coach, I just want to try to help them make some more passes. That’s on me to help get us in a little better position offensively.”
Jackson is intent on playing his part.
“I realize I didn’t do what I needed to do to help our team win the game,” Jackson said. “I’ve always been about winning, so I feel like if I can do the things I need to do, I can definitely give our team a better chance.”
In each of the last three games – the 70-63 victory over Michigan, the 76-75 win over Stephen F. Austin, and the 61-56 conquest of Wisconsin – Notre Dame has clamped down defensively and gone on an offensive run to take and secure the lead/victory.
• Trailing by one with less than five minutes remaining, the Irish scored 13 of the final 18 points to defeat the Wolverines.
• Looking up at a five-point deficit with less than two minutes left, Notre Dame scored the final six points to knock off the Lumberjacks.
• Down by five with under three minutes on the clock, the Irish went on a 15-5 run versus the Badgers -- including the last eight points of the game -- to advance to tonight’s East Regional championship.
“That gives us so much confidence,” said Jackson of Notre Dame’s recent closing tendencies. “There are times when we’ll be down eight, nine points. V.J. always says to me, ‘We can still win this’ or ‘We’ve got plenty of time.’
“We just have great huddles and guys are communicating really well. We always believe.”
Halftime deficits haven’t fazed the Irish, either. Notre Dame trailed by 12 against Michigan and four versus Wisconsin, out-scoring the Wolverines by 19 in the second half and the Badgers by nine.
Those comebacks marked just the third and fourth times in Notre Dame’s NCAA tournament history that it overcame a halftime deficit.
PROTECTING THE BASKETBALL
Although the Irish have quieted down their penchant for turning the basketball over since the outbreak against Duke and North Carolina in the ACC tournament, ball protection remains an important theme against the Tar Heels, especially in light of the 17 miscues on March 11 against Roy Williams’ crew.
A key in the NCAA tournament has been the insertion into the rotation of sophomore guard Matt Farrell. Farrell not only helps Jackson lead the running game when opportunities arise, but he makes the Irish a better ball-handling team.
The Irish turned the ball over 13 times against Stephen F. Austin and 12 versus Wisconsin.
“I didn’t play Matt Farrell in the first half against North Carolina, and I kicked myself for it because I think he would have helped us handle the ball better,” Brey said.
Stephen F. Austin’s pressure on the basketball was outstanding preparation for what the Irish will face against the Tar Heels. Notre Dame turned it over nine times in the second half against the Lumberjacks, but just four in the first half.
“In the (Stephen F. Austin) game, we were able to play at the pace we wanted to play at,” Jackson said. “Sometimes, it’s making that extra pass, sometimes it’s skipping the ball…
“When (the Tar Heels) run-and-jump (defensively), there’s going to be a guy open. So being able to find that guy and that guy being a receiver and then making an aggressive play is important.”
DEFENDING THE ARC
North Carolina was among the nation’s bottom 10 percent in three-point shooting during the regular season, converting 30-to-31 percent throughout most of the year.
The Tar Heels have transformed themselves from beyond the arc since the start of the ACC tournament, connecting on 37-of-96 three-point attempts (38.5 percent).
North Carolina is peaking from three-point range heading into Sunday’s East Regional championship game with the Irish after converting 11-of-20 in the 101-86 victory over Indiana Friday.
Leading the way -- and making the greatest transformation -- is senior guard Marcus Paige. Paige converted 48-of-142 three-pointers (.338) during the regular season. In the three ACC tournament/three NCAA tournament games since, Paige has made 17-of-40 three-pointers (.425), including 4-of-7 against Notre Dame in the semifinals of the ACC tournament and 6-of-9 against the Hoosiers.
“Taking away the three-point line is something we’ve really got to consider in exchange for two-point shots,” said Notre Dame assistant coach Martin Ingelsby, who was assigned the scouting report for the Tar Heels.
“With Paige making shots now, it’s kind of pick your poison as to how you want to defend them.”
Paige’s backcourt running mate – Joel Berry II – has been hot as well. He’s made 11-of-25 (.440) in the post-season.
“That’s something that Coach Ingelsby and Coach (Anthony) Solomon talk about all the time, especially on their guards,” said junior V.J. Beachem of the three-for-two tradeoff. “Keeping them out of the lane and contesting jump shots is going to be huge for us.
“They’re going to be great inside. That’s their main strength. But we’ve got to try to limit their outside shots and their open looks.”
Just 26.7 percent of North Carolina’s field-goal attempts come from beyond the arc compared to 34.5 percent of Notre Dame’s shots. The Tar Heels do most of their damage up front with the long and athletic Brice Johnson (16.8 ppg.), Justin Jackson (12.2), Isaiah Hicks (9.2) and Kennedy Meeks (9.2).
If North Carolina can add an effective long-range game to their already potent interior offensive attack, it will be another long night for the Irish.
THE TRICKY TRANSITION GAME
Few teams can dominate the boards and get into the running game as adeptly as the Tar Heels. When Roy Williams’ bunch gets out in transition, it can turn a competitive game into a nightmare.
By the same token, Notre Dame’s resurgence since the final regular-season game against N.C. State has been supplemented by an up-tempo approach with Jackson and Farrell pushing the pace for some transition baskets.
A key to Notre Dame’s 42 second-half points in the 61-56 victory over Wisconsin Friday night was its ability to get out into the open court, finish and avoid the Badgers’ clog-the-lane half-court defense.
“We’re going to have to pick and choose our spots,” Beachem said. “When we have clean rebounds and we have numbers, of course we’re going to try to look to get easy buckets.
“Other than that, we’re going to really try to grind them up and get into our movement the way we have in other second halves of the tournament.”
Even if the Irish don’t push the tempo much against the Tar Heels, Farrell’s presence in the lineup is significant in preventing North Carolina from dictating the pace. With Farrell on the court, the Irish have two guards whose games are geared toward an up-tempo approach.
“If we have a fast-break opportunity, we’re not going to walk it up the court,” Jackson said. “If we don’t have a fast-break opportunity, there’s no reason to speed up.
“Just playing at the pace we want to play at. Play smart and having a high IQ.”
• Line: North Carolina by 10
• Prister/O’Malley Prediction: North Carolina 82, Notre Dame 74