It seemed like just a few days ago we were all waiting for the college basketball season to start. The reality is that in less than a week the regular season will be over and we will be waiting for where the Selection committee seeds the Heels. But before all of that happens there are still a couple of games for this “turnaround” squad, including Senior Night, where #19/21 North Carolina (22 & 7 ~ 12 & 4 in ACC) will host Notre Dame (15 & 15 ~ 6 & 11 ACC), tip off being at 7 p.m. EST (aired on ESPN with Sean McDonough & Jay Bilas calling the game). Carolina leads the series 17-4 and has won six of the last seven meetings, including the last match up on February 8th in South Bend by the score of 74 to 62. But this game is not so much about the series, but about going into Durham riding on a high and not with a loss, no matter who the opponent is.
The two programs come into this game going in different directions, but both needing this game for their own reasons. Carolina is riding an eleven game winning streak, while Notre Dame has lost three of their last four and have not looked good. For the Tar Heels each win means a better seeding in both the conference post tournament, which head coach Roy Williams is not a big fan of, as well as the Big Dance, which we are all fan of. For the Fighting Irish to finish the season with a win over a ranked squad in a disappointing first year as part of the Atlantic Coast Conference could help heal the pain.
With the re-match with Duke looming the key for UNC is not to be looking ahead, but to deal with the game at hand, and to do it well. It means playing like they have in their run, while shooting better than they did against Virginia Tech, where the squad hit 9 for 18 (50.0%), from the charity stripe. It would also be good for the Heels to be able to take control of the game from the get go, as to give their key players some breathers. And most of all, keep the energy going when playing defense.
As usual, at the cost of being monotonous by saying this over and over, this squad will go as far as their leaders, sophomore combo guard Marcus Paige and junior power forward James McAdoo, will take them. The pair lead the squad in scoring, while Paige is also the leader in assists and McAdoo in rebounds. If this duo is key for Carolina, two others, fifth year senior shooting guard Leslie McDonald and sophomore small forward J.P. Tokoto, are becoming pretty essential to the squad as well.
On the inside, helping out McAdoo, are a few players including starting center, freshman Kennedy Meeks, who has not played as well of late due to an injury, sophomore Joel James, who had been the starter to begin to season, but has seen his minutes shrink more and more, and sophomore power forward Brice Johnson, second in rebounding behind McAdoo, who has shown a lot of athleticism but has been up and down for most of the year. All of them, as well as Desmond Hubert, will have to deal with the Irish’s big man Garrick Sherman, who in the first game came out with 17 points and six rebounds.
The Vegas insiders have the Tar Heels an eleven points favorite, which is pretty close to how I see the spread being between these two teams at this times. In the end, with UNC being able to take control before going into intermission, North Carolina takes it 82 to 70 as the Dean Dome fans watch McDonald play his last home game as a Tar Heel.