Notre Dame-North Carolina Preview
Notre Dame is the best shooting team in the nation, but North Carolina is one of the best defensive teams in the ACC.
The 13th-ranked Fighting Irish look for another efficient offensive display as they try to beat the No. 18 Tar Heels for the first time in nearly 23 years Monday night.
Notre Dame (14-1, 2-0) has matched its best start under coach Mike Brey from 2012-13, thanks in large part to shooting a Division I-best 55.3 percent from the field, including 40.4 from long range. The team’s average of 85.9 points ranks only behind BYU (88.3) and Central Michigan (87.9).
That offense has spurred the Fighting Irish’s 10-game winning streak, their longest since a 12-game run from Nov. 17, 2012-Jan. 7, 2013.
Getting closer to that mark, however, means beating North Carolina (11-3, 1-0) for the first time since Jan. 11, 1992. Notre Dame has lost 18 of 22 all-time matchups, including five straight after falling 63-61 to the then-No. 14 Tar Heels at Chapel Hill on March 3.
The Irish, who are also playing their first true road game after going 1-9 in such contests last season, will also have to contend with a North Carolina team limiting opponents to 34.8 percent from the floor and 24.9 from 3-point range to rank among the stingiest teams in the conference.
Notre Dame needed two overtimes to beat Georgia Tech 83-76 on Saturday, overcoming a season-worst 4 for 19 shooting from beyond the arc. Pat Connaughton came through in the clutch, scoring five of his 10 points while adding two rebounds, a steal and a block in the second OT.
“You know, you’ve got the weight of the world on your shoulders,” Brey said. “You’ve been winning … everything has been easy. I fully expected a really, really hard one, and for us to find a way to get it is a great win for us.”
Jerian Grant leads the Fighting Irish with 17.9 points and 6.2 assists per game, and he scored 24 against the Yellow Jackets while hitting 10 of 18 field goals. The senior guard shot 33.3 percent and averaged 12.0 points over the three previous games.
He missed ACC play last season due to academic issues, which forced him off the team after 12 games.
Connaughton had 17 points and 13 boards against the Tar Heels in March after getting seven and 10, respectively, in a 73-62 home loss Feb. 8.
North Carolina is riding a season-high five-game winning streak after a 74-50 rout at Clemson on Saturday in its best defensive effort yet. The Tar Heels held the Tigers to 28.3 percent shooting, including 6 of 26 from behind the arc.
“Coach (Roy Williams) always tells us to take the other team out of what they want to do,” forward Isaiah Hicks said. “When we pressure the ball with everyone denying and getting in passing lanes, it takes them out of what they want to do offensively. And from there, everything we do builds off of that.”
Kennedy Meeks is looking to build on his 12 points and 12 rebounds from Saturday — his sixth double-double of the season but first since Dec. 7. The forward totaled eight points and 10 boards in 24 minutes against Notre Dame last year.
Marcus Paige put up 16 points and dished out six assists as a starter at South Bend, but he wasn’t nearly that effective off the bench at home with seven points.
The junior guard is averaging a team-high 13.4 points but shooting only 37.0 percent, well off his 2013-14 marks of 17.5 per game on 44.0 percent shooting.