The biggest thing to know before betting this Game is the status of Notre Dame’s starting point guard Matt Farrell. The team’s best player without Bonzie Colson, he’s missed the last two Games with an ankle injury. But even if he doesn’t play, this isn’t a guaranteed win for North Carolina, already losing two ACC Games on the road.
As for the Fighting Irish, even though they fell at Georgia Tech on Wednesday, they battled and stole a win at Syracuse over the weekend. This team still hasn’t played an entire Game without Farrell and Colson at home outside of the Game in which Farrell got hurt when they won 88-58 against NC State. Normally, this would be a higher scoring contest, but without their two best players, Notre Dame hasn’t been able to Scoreconsistency, but again, that could have to do with playing on the road.
If Notre Dame wants to have a chance, it will need someone to step up and stop UNC’s LUke Maye. The Tar Heels kind of go as Maye goes. When Maye dominates, they rarely lose, but when he fails to hit his shot and isn’t a factor on the boards, they’re in trouble. Martinas Geben will likely get that task for most of the Game, but if that doesn’t work, Elijah Burns and John Mooney should see plenty of time on Maye, if not also Austin Torres. Geben has been a bigger factor since Colson went down, but he’s still not a guy that’s going to take over Games.
The other task for Notre Dame will be to limit Joel Berry’s easy looks and that task could be given to Rex Pflueger. If he can at least keep Berry around his season averages of shooting (39% FG, 36.5% 3pt), this Game should be competitive. Other than that, the Tar Heels don’t have the same talent as last year that’s going to jump off the page. Kenny Williams, Cameron Johnson and Theo Pinson can all be good players, but none of them are going to go off for 30 points.
The problem for the Irish is that they don’t have anyone on that level, especially if Farrell is out. If Farrell can’t go, Mike Brey has turned to more TJ Gibbs, DJ Harvey and Nikola Djogo. Unfortunately, Harvey is just 3-of-20 from the field in the last two Games, while Djogo didn’t even play before the two studs got hurt. In addition to Geben, the two players that can keep the Scoreclose will be Gibbs and Pflueger. And if Pflueger fails to Scorelike he did at Georgia Tech, the Irish probably won’t win.
The keys for the Irish will be to limit offensive boards and while that’s not their forte, they still have the size to deal with UNC, which could come in handy. UNC’s defense ranks 12th in adjusted efficiency, but this group still gives up more than 37 percent from downtown. If Gibbs and Pflueger can exploit that against smaller defenders, that will be a starting point to pulling off the upset. The return of Farrell would be huge because he would add another legit threat from deep in addition to being the regular guy that creates for the offense instead of Gibbs. The Heels will get a lot of money because of the injuries, but this isn’t a free win no matter the status of Farrell.
Our Pick – Notre Dame +5.5