ND works to establish stride
Matthew DeFranks | Thursday, February 6, 2014
Notre Dame and North Carolina have some things in common.
Both the Irish and Tar Heels not only unexpectedly lost their top offensive weapons but also three of their first four ACC games — but that’s where the similarities end.
Since starting 1-3 in conference play, the Tar Heels (15-7, 5-4 ACC) have won four of their last five while the Irish (12-11, 3-7) have dropped four of six.
North Carolina was up and down in non-conference play, beating Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky but losing to Belmont, UAB and Texas.
Irish coach Mike Brey said the Tar Heels have begun to find themselves during their four-game winning streak.
“They’re playing better,” Brey said. “I think they’re kind of finding their identity. … They’re pressuring the ball defensively, they’re trapping more. So us taking care of the ball is a concern for me.
“I think they’ve found a little bit of an offensive rhythm also. They had a tough start to ACC play and right now, we’ve got a very confident team coming to town.”
In conference play, Notre Dame is 0-4 when turning the ball over more than 10 times. The Irish turned the ball over 12 times Monday night in a 61-55 loss to No. 1 Syracuse.
North Carolina has forced its ACC opponents into 12.2 turnovers per game.
Sophomore guard Marcus Paige and junior forward James Michael McAdoo lead North Carolina with 17.1 and 14.8 points per game, respectively.
Tar Heels senior guard Leslie McDonald, who missed the season’s first nine games for receiving impermissible benefits, averages 11.1 points per game.
The Tar Heels (who top the ACC in rebounding) have outrebounded conferences foes by 6.3 rebounds per game while pulling down 15.6 offensive boards.
“It’s a very similar preparation to what we had on Monday night [against Syracuse],” Brey said. “Can we hold our own in the paint? I was very pleased with how we held our own in the paint against Syracuse and we need to do the same thing against Carolina’s size.”
Brey said the Irish need to be wary of the Tar Heels transition offense, which posted 19 points off turnovers in their 75-63 win over Maryland on Tuesday.
“They want to play fast,” Brey said. “They want the most possessions of anybody in the league. We don’t necessarily want that.”
The matchup with the Tar Heels will be the first one since 2008, when Notre Dame lost 102-87 to the eventual national champions in the Maui Invitational. It will be the first home game against the five-time NCAA champions in 20 years.
“This is one of these Duke opportunities,” Brey said. “Let’s let it all hang out.”
Burgett expected back
Sophomore forward Austin Burgett should be available for Saturday’s game, Brey said.
Burgett has been recovering from a heart procedure after an irregular heartbeat forced him out of the loss to Florida State.
Brey said Burgett rode the stationary bike, ran on the treadmill and would partially practice Thursday. Burgett would practice Friday and be a go for Saturday’s game, Brey said.
“He is feeling good and his frame of mind is very positive,” Brey said. “I feel really good about where he’s at.”
Non-conference next year
With its move to the ACC, Notre Dame severed many of the ties it had with the Big East. But some familiar faces could reappear on Notre Dame’s non-conference schedule — maybe not next season, though.
“I don’t know if we’re going to get to them next year,” Brey said. “The year after is where we’re looking at stuff, maybe a Villanova or a St. John’s.”
After travelling to Iowa for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge this season, the Irish are in line to host a Big Ten team next season. Brey also said the Irish were under consideration for an early season conference game.
Notre Dame will also compete in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament next season. Brey said the Irish would host two games before travelling to Springfield, Mass., to play Providence and UMass. Binghamton, Navy, Florida State, Northeastern and Manhattan are the other teams in the tournament.
Update on Grant
Brey said he spoke with dismissed guard Jerian Grant on Wednesday night and he still fully expects Grant to return next season.
Brey said Grant is out west with his uncle Horace Grant, former NBA All-Star and champion.
Contact Matthew DeFranks at email@example.com