NOTRE DAME VS. NORTH CAROLINA
Where: Purcell Pavilion (9,149), at Notre Dame
Records & Rankings: 12-11 (3-7 ACC) Notre Dame is unranked in the AP; 15-7 (5-4) North Carolina is unranked in the AP.
Time/TV: Noon EST on ACC Network
Last Meeting: North Carolina defeated Notre Dame 102-87 in the Maui Invitational in 2008; North Carolina leads the all-time series 16-4
Line: North Carolina by 1
Freshman guard Steve Vasturia played a career-high 37 minutes at Syracuse on Monday.
Notre Dame Notes
After a 61-55 loss at No. 1 Syracuse, the Irish return home for their first meeting against North Carolina since the 2008 Maui Invitational, a game in which former Notre Dame guard Kyle McAlarney scored 39 points and made 10 three-pointers. Saturday will mark the first meeting between Irish head coach Mike Brey and North Carolina head coach Roy Williams since then and only the second since the 1991 NCAA Tournament championship game, when Brey was an assistant at Duke and Williams was the head coach at Kansas.
“I believe in talking to Roy a couple summers ago, I don’t think he’s ever coached [at Purcell Pavilion] as a head coach,” Brey said. “He made a comment about playing and certainly now it’s come to fruition now that we’re in the league. I’m not sure he’s ever coached here. Larry Brown was the coach when Kansas came here.”
On Thursday, Brey said he expected sophomore forward Austin Burgett to be able to return to action after missing four games with an irregular heartbeat. He underwent a procedure to correct the issue Jan. 29 and returned to practice late this week.
Despite the loss in the Carrier Dome earlier this week, Brey said he was encouraged by the team’s defensive effort, specifically in the second half when Notre Dame trimmed the deficit from 13 to three.
“When we’re able to play two big guys and they’re able to guard big guys who play close to the bucket, that’s a little better for us,” he said. “Then instead of one of the big guys having to chase a four man on the perimeter, there wasn’t really anybody like that. They were all kind of jammed in there so we could play bodies on people. We were able to help off of people, too, so we were able to do that and jam it up.
“Our feeling going in as I said the other night was we’ve got to see jump shots go in. I like to capitalize on how we were physical in the paint and defended in the halfcourt. It’s a similar preparation with big bodies for North Carolina.”
Eric Atkins — Has scored in double digits in eight of 10 ACC games this season.
Steve Vasturia — Played a career-high 37 minutes at Syracuse on Monday.
Pat Connaughton — Averaging 13.5 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists in ACC play.
Zach Auguste — Averaging 6.2 points and 3.9 rebounds this season.
Garrick Sherman — Averaging a career-high 14.5 points and eight rebounds this season.
North Carolina Overview
The Tar Heels have been one of the country’s most confusing teams this season. During non-conference play, North Carolina topped Michigan State, Louisville and Kentucky, but lost to Belmont and UAB. Williams’ squad began ACC play 1-4, but is on a four-game winning streak heading into Purcell Pavilion.
“That’s a good question,” Brey said when asked why North Carolina has struggled so much. “Just reading a little bit of Roy’s comments, I don’t think he was pleased with them defensively. What they’re doing is pressuring more in the halfcourt, back to contesting and they’re back to trapping more. The old run and jump that [Dean Smith] put in way back. They’re trapping more stuff out of timeouts. We’re going to have to be receivers as they double, not necessarily clamping the post, but clamping the first pass on the perimeter or trapping side-out-of-bounds situations. We have to be really ready for that.
“It’s started with their defense. What they’ve done is turn people over and get transition. We were just watching the Maryland game. It’s 17-3 out of the gate and they’re running. Maryland’s turning it over and all of the sudden it’s 17-3. We’ve got to be good with the ball. We’ve had issues with the ball at times. If we have issues with the ball, it’s not going to be a good afternoon.”
North Carolina has played without guard P.J. Hairston this season due to an investigation into NCAA violations. Williams compared the absence of last year’s leading scorer to Notre Dame playing without leading scorer Jerian Grant, although the Irish played with him during almost all of their non-conference slate.
“I have no idea [if it’s changed things] because I have not seen a single game with Grant,” Williams said. “I’ve seen parts of three games since they lost him. I know when you look at it, those numbers from the first 10 or 12 games were awfully impressive. It’s very difficult to lose somebody that you were really counting on. We understand that, ourselves. But, they had him in games, so that’s a very difficult thing to try to replace, there’s no question.”
Without Hairston, four players average double-digit points for the Tar Heels and eight average double-digit minutes. Sophomore guard Marcus Paige leads the way with 17.1 points and 3.6 rebounds per game.
“They’re finding their identity and winning four in a row,” Brey said. “They feel good about themselves, they’re pressuring the ball defensively and trapping more. Us taking care of the ball is a concern for me and I think they’ve found a bit of an offensive rhythm, too. They had a tough start to ACC play and right now we’re getting a very confident team coming to town. It’s a similar preparation to what we had Monday night [against Syracuse]. Can we hold our own in the paint? I was very pleased with how we held our own in the paint against Syracuse. We need to do the same thing against Carolina’s size.”
Outlook: The result of this game is as unpredictable as any on the Notre Dame schedule this season. The Tar Heels beat the top three teams in the preseason poll in the first two months of the season, but have also suffered some embarrassing losses. They seem to be back on track during the four-game winning streak and should be able to control the pace against the Irish.
Notre Dame will benefit from Burgett’s return, but how many minutes he will be able to play — especially if the game is played at a fast pace — is in question.
Prediction: North Carolina 75, Notre Dame 70