Chapel Hill, NC (SportsNetwork.com) - The Notre Dame Fighting Irish put the wraps on the 2013-14 regular season when they take on the North Carolina Tar Heels at the Smith Center on Monday night.
Notre Dame's first season as a member of the ACC hasn't gone quite according to plan, as Mike Brey's club comes into this finale sporting a 15-15 overall record, which includes a 6-11 league ledger. The Fighting Irish dropped an 85-81 overtime decision at home to Pittsburgh on Saturday, marking the team's third loss in the last four games. Brey's next win will be the 400th of his career.
North Carolina is playing its final home game of the campaign tonight, and it close out the regular season this Saturday at bitter rival Duke. The Tar Heels, who are tied with the Blue Devils with a conference mark of 12-4 heading into the week, have built up a serious head of steam in recent weeks, as Roy Williams' squad has reeled off 11 straight wins, the most recent of which occurring this past Saturday in a 60-56 decision at Virginia Tech.
North Carolina claimed a 73-62 win at Notre Dame on Feb. 8 in the first meeting between these new conference rivals this season, extending its lead in the all-time series to 17-4 in the process.
Putting points on the board hasn't really been an issue for Notre Dame this season, as the team ranks fourth in the ACC in scoring (72.4 ppg), while checking in fifth in both field goal percentage (.457) and 3-point field goal percentage (.361). They are the second-best squad in terms of assist-to- turnover ratio (1.5), and they are third in assists (15.4 apg). Unfortunately, the Irish have faltered on defense quite often, as they surrender 70.5 ppg to rank 13th in the 15-team league. Their average yield on field goal allowance (.446) ranks 14th, and their effort defending the 3-pointer (.383) has them dead last.
At present, there are three double-digit scorers on the roster for Notre Dame, as Eric Atkins (13.7 ppg, 4.8 apg), Garrick Sherman (13.6 ppg, 7.3 rpg) and Pat Connaughton (13.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 3.0 apg) do their best to help the Irish compete on a nightly basis. Connaughton hit for 19 points, Atkins had 17 to go with nine assists, and Steve Vasturia 15 for UND in its recent overtime loss to Pittsburgh. The trio combined for eight of the team's 12 3-pointers, and the Irish shot 54.8 percent from the field for the game, while going 23-of-27 at the free-throw line. Unfortunately, the Panthers hit a few more field goals, went 24-of-28 at the charity stripe, easily won the rebounding battle (38-22), and took advantage of 16 UND turnovers (17 points).
North Carolina's 11-game win streak is its longest since 2008 when it won 13 straight, and it's been more than a decade (2001-01) since the Tar Heels won at least that many in a row against ACC foes. UNC boasts four double-digit scorers in Marcus Paige (17.2 ppg), James M. McAdoo (14.2 ppg, 6.8 rpg), Leslie McDonald (11.0 ppg) and Brice Johnson (10.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg). Paige, who also serves as the team's primary playmaker (130 assists) as well as its top 3-point shooter (71-of-179, .397), currently ranks fourth in the ACC in scoring. North Carolina is the second-highest scoring team in the league (76.7 ppg), but it ranks in the bottom half with regard to scoring defense (68.1 ppg, 10th). Despite their solid offensive numbers, the Heels are last in the league in free throw percentage (.626).
North Carolina put forth a lackluster offensive effort in its recent win at Virginia Tech, as the team shot just 41.8 percent from the field, missing 12 of its 17 3-point tries along the way, as well as half of its free throws (9- of-18). The Tar Heels did play solid defense though, holding the Hokies to 35.6 percent field goal efficiency, which included a 7-of-24 showing from beyond the arc. McAdoo paced the unit with 15 points, while McDonald added 14 and J.P. Tokoto a dozen for the winning side.