by Sharon Thorsland
North Carolina takes on Notre Dame in a bright and early ACC match-up on Saturday. Tip-off is set for 11:30am in the Dean Dome. The Tar Heels turned in an impressive second half performance in Wednesday’s win over Wake Forest, improving to 10-5 on the year, 2-2 in the conference. It’s been a down year for the Fighting Irish (8-7, 0-4), who are still looking for their first ACC win.
The Irish have a veteran team with all five starters averaging in double figures. They’re led by forward Nate Laszewski, who is averaging 13 points and nearly 8 rebounds per game. Freshman guard JJ Starling has been impressive, averaging 13 points per game, while Dane Goodwin is a sharp shooter, he’s ranks 3rd in the ACC shooting 48 percent from behind the arc. Notre Dame will be missing forward and leading shot blocker Ven-Allen Lubin, who is out with an ankle injury. That’s bad news for the Irish, who now have to deal with ACC scoring and rebounding leader Armando Bacot. Look for Matt Zona and Dom Campbell to step in, although neither has played much this season. The Irish have played good defense, they’re actually third in the league allowing just 67 points per game. But they’re turning the ball over too much, especially late in games, and they’re dead last in the league in offensive rebounds, managing just 7.3 per contest.
The Tar Heels will no doubt pose quite the challenge for the Irish, particularly Bacot. The Heels looked like the team people thought they would be in the win over the Demon Deacons, forcing 15 turnovers and turning those into 32 points, while also taking care of the ball themselves. That was in spite of an off-night for star guard Caleb Love. Pete Nance is dealing with a sore back so the Heels could use a three-guard lineup again. Even without Nance, UNC should dominate in the paint with Bacot.
UNC has won nine of the last 11 games in the series, but the Irish upset them last season 78-73 in South Bend. Look for them to make it 10 of 12 on Saturday and keep the Irish win less in the ACC. Go Tar Heels!