Elite 8 Pick
After taking down Wisconsin, Notre Dame’s Demetrious Jackson said he wanted to face North Carolina again. He got his wish. It wasn’t that long ago that these teams met back in the ACC Tournament. The Tar Heels looked unstoppable en route to a 78-47 win. Notre Dame’s guards put in their worse performance of the season starting with Jackson. Their Four backcOurt players combined to go 1-of-23 from the field and that was it.
Getting that kind of shooting from your guards against North Carolina is a recipe for disaster as the Heels usually dominate the paint with their bigs. UNC didn’t even shoot that well in that Game to make matters worse for Notre Dame, but expectedly they dominated the rebound battle 49-31. So yeah, two teams that met a few weeks ago in a Game that resulted in a 31-point win are meeting again in the Elite 8.
Meanwhile, the Tar Heels are coming off one of their best shooting performances of the season, going 11-of-20 from long range with that number at 10-of-12 at one point in the second half and scoring 101 points. They have absolutely dominated every opponent in the Tournament and have won five of their last six Games by double digits.
As for the Fighting Irish, they closed the regular season struggling, highlighted by that UNC loss. And while they haven’t played great, they seem to have late-Game heroics no matter the opponent. They came back from a large deficit to take down Michigan, needed a last-second tip-in to beat Stephen F. Austin and then outscored Wisconsin 8-0 in the final 19 seconds to win the Sweet 16 Game. Everything has bounced in their favor as of late, but it’s hard to see that happening again.
Once again, the Heels are going to have a monster edge on the boards with Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks wrecking havoc. Hicks had 15 rebounds in 23 minutes the last time these teams met. Johnson, a contender for ACC player of the year, played just 15 minutes yet had 12 points and seven boards. Zach Auguste is a good player, but he can’t do it all for this team in the paint.
The Irish had to use the likes of 6-5 Bonzie Colson, 6-8 V.J. Beachem and freshman Matt Ryan on Johnson and Hicks last Game. That’s why the Heels dominated down low. For Notre Dame to keep it close and to have a chance, their guards need to do something more.
Matt Farrell was inserted into the starting lineup recently and he takes some of the pressure off Jackson in the backcOurt. That will help somewhat, but only to an extent.
With all this said, Notre Dame did beat UNC at one point this year, albeit at home, it was an 80-76 win. While backup Heels guard Nate Britt missed the Game, the Irish held their own on the boards with Auguste and Colson collecting 10 a piece. They were able to do that with Johnson and Meeks in foul trouble.
But that Game was a long time ago. North Carolina is playing its best basketball of the season and Notre Dame is eking out late-Game wins against mediocre competition. The Heels are around -9 or -9.5 point favorites and could easily blow this one open again. Jackson wanted this Game and it’ll be up to him not to just win for the Irish, but to even cover in this Game.
Our Pick – Noorth Carolina -9.5