The North Carolina Tar Heels are currently on a four-game winning streak, their longest this season, and they are currently playing out of their minds. They have climbed up to sixth place in the ACC, but they cannot afford to let their current success get to their heads. Saturday they face off against Notre Dame, a team that is struggling in their first season in one of the toughest conferences in college basketball. If the Tar Heels plan to continue this hot streak, they cannot take the Irish lightly or look ahead to their upcoming back-to-back games against Duke and Pittsburgh.
It is very difficult for the Tar Heels not to look ahead to their tough two-game series against top teams in the ACC, but if they fall to Notre Dame then all of their momentum will vanish in the blink of an eye. The Irish are led in scoring by guard Jerian Grant with 19 points per game, and although he missed the beginning half of the season he has come back and scored double-digits in all but one game this season. He is one of the team’s top three-point shooter as well, shooting 40.8 percent on the season with an average of almost two per game. At 6-foot-5, it is no wonder why Grant has been so successful at the guard position in the ACC, so Leslie McDonald will most likely be in charge of neutralizing his talents in the backcourt.
Speaking of McDonald, it is vital that he continues to be the third scoring threat for the Tar Heels alongside Marcus Paige and James Michael McAdoo. Both Paige and McAdoo have been on a tear as of late, scoring in double-digits in every game during the team’s win streak. It is up to Paige and McDonald to get hot from beyond the arc, and it is up to McAdoo to have yet another statement game in the frontcourt in order for the Tar Heels to continue their winning ways.
Also, the Tar Heels’ bench showed a drastic decline in the team’s previous game against Maryland. Brice Johnson was the only player to score off the bench, and this is a problem considering the Tar Heels are a team that relies on a balanced attack throughout an entire game. Nate Britt needs to come into the game and take some of the work load off of Paige, and Joel James needs to show Tar Heels fans why he was the starting center throughout the beginning of the season. Right now, the team’s starters are the only ones contributing to the winning effort, and that needs to change before the ACC tournament.
It is also vital that the Tar Heels take advantage of the fact that Notre Dame is a very poor rebounding team. They are 169th in the nation in the stat, while the Tar Heels rank 9th. During the four-game win streak, the Tar Heels have outrebounded teams almost too easily, and in a game in which they are projected to do the same they must capitalize.
Notre Dame is 12-11 on the season and 3-7 in the ACC, but the Tar Heels have a history of losing to teams far less talented than they are. They are playing this game on the road, so that is a challenge in itself, but the real challenge will be maintaining focus throughout a game that on paper is the least of their worries. With the Duke and Pittsburgh matchups in the near future, it will be very difficult to focus on anything else but those two difficult games. Like I said before, a loss to Notre Dame will only cause the Tar Heels to collapse moving forward in the season, so the only way they will be fully prepared for this tedious two-game stretch is if they dominate the Irish throughout Saturday’s game.