The No. 2 North Carolina Tar Heels (19-3, 8-1) visit the unranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish (15-7, 6-4) in the second of three straight ACC road games to start the month. The Tar Heels suffered their first conference loss of the season to Louisville, but maintain a two game lead in the ACC race.
Despite only having three losses this season, the Tar Heels have underachieved in many eyes around the basketball community. Despite not having Marcus Paige at the start of the season, they took an unexpected loss to Northern Iowa. Their second loss came to Texas on a buzzer beater, while this week’s loss to the Cardinals was somewhat expected.
With Paige back in the lineup, the Tar Heels flourished in January, however, they are still waiting for their point guard to take his game to the next level. He’s averaging 12.4 points per game, along with four assists, but is only shooting 40 percent from the field this season.
With four starters averaging around 10 shots per game, the Tar Heels have no problem spreading the ball around, but they’ve struggled to score in losses. So far, they average 85 points per game, and have failed to reach that milestone in those three defeats. In fact, Louisville held the Tar Heels to their lowest output of the season, 65 points.
Although Paige is due for a breakout game, he doesn’t have to be spectacular for the Tar Heels to win. Brice Johnson has been as productive as any player in college basketball this season. He leads the Tar Heels with 16.7 points and 10.2 rebounds per game, while shooting 62 percent from the field. Johnson will have his hands full against Zach Auguste.
The Fighting Irish are no slouch when it comes to scoring, and Auguste gives them an interior presence. Averaging 14 points per game, Auguste is the second leading scorer, and might be able to get the Tar Heels in foul trouble. Like Johnson, Auguste grabs 10 rebounds per game, but he must avoid foul trouble as well.
As a team, the Fighting Irish have five double-digit scorers. They are capable of torching the Tar Heels from long range. However, they also have the ability to get ice cold. With Demetrius Jackson back at full strength, the offense should be able to find some openings against the Tar Heels.
If recent history is any indication, this game should turn into a track meet. Currently, the Irish are on a two-game winning streak against the Tar Heels. The defending ACC Champions have the confidence to make it three in a row.
The game tips off at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN.