North Carolina (15-7, 5-4) vs. Notre Dame (12-11, 3-7)
South Bend, Ind. - Purcell Pavilion
ACCN (Tim Brant, Dan Bonner)
"That's who this group is. We haven't been able to get over the hump and win enough. We've been down on the road just about every time, and we come back and give ourselves a chance. I love that about us. If we keep doing that enough I think we'll get a couple of them." – Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey on his team’s ability to keep games close
Season to Date: Notre Dame enters Saturday’s contest with a 12-11 (3-7 ACC) record. The Fighting Irish were effective early in the season with senior guard Jerian Grant manning the controls, topping Indiana (79-72) and playing Iowa (98-93) and Ohio State (64-61) close. Mike Brey’s squad has struggled since Grant’s departure (see below) with two of its three ACC wins against doormats Virginia Tech and Boston College at home. Notre Dame’s signature came against Duke on Jan. 4 at home (79-77).
Grant Gone: Jerian Grant, Notre Dame’s leading scorer through 12 games, was dismissed from the team in December due to an academic issue. The 6-foot-5 guard, who is the son of former NBA player Harvey Grant, was averaging 19 points on 51.8 percent shooting and a team-high 6.2 assists per game. Brey said at the time Grant’s loss might be the toughest of his career due the guard’s heavy involvement in the offense. Notre Dame is 4-7 since Grant’s dismissal.
Atkins Attacking: Senior guard Eric Atkins has taken over primary guard duties for Notre Dame with plenty of success to show for it. He’s averaging a team-best 15.2 points per game in ACC play, good for 12th in the league. Atkins boasts a 2.58 assist-to-turnover ratio (6th ACC) and is dishing out 5.3 assists per game in league play. His career 2.35 assist-to-turnover ratio ranks fourth among active Division I players.
Losing on the Defensive End: Notre Dame’s primary deficiency in ACC play has been its defense. The Fighting Irish are allowing opponents to shoot 46.7 percent in 10 league games, trailing only Duke (46.8) in the rankings. Notre Dame also ranks 14th in 3-point field goal percentage defense (38.3). The Irish are blocking just 2.6 shots per game (14th in ACC play) despite starting two post players that are 6-foot-10 or taller.
Post Work: Senior center Garrick Sherman has alleviated some of the scoring pressure for the Fighting Irish in Grant’s absence. The Michigan State transfer is averaging 14.5 points on 52.1 percent shooting (tops in the ACC) and a team-high 8.0 rebounds per game. Sherman’s best game of the season came against N.C. State in which he scored 21 points and grabbed a career-high 18 rebounds.
Taking Care of the Ball: Notre Dame ranks 13th nationally with a 1.49 assist-to-turnover ratio. The Fighting Irish have committed fewer than 10 turnovers in 11 of their 23 games.
Playing Close: Six of Notre Dame’s seven ACC losses have been by a combined 35 points, which is good for 5.8-points-per-game average. Its 15-point loss to Virginia on Jan. 28 is the only double-digit defeat in conference play.
Last Meeting: The Tar Heels defeated Notre Dame, 102-87, in the Maui Invitational championship game on Nov. 26, 2008. Tyler Hansbrough led all scorers with 34 points on 13-of-19 shooting while Ty Lawson added 22 points and a career-high 11 assists. Deon Thompson posted a double-double with 19 points and 13 rebounds.
Series History: UNC leads the all-time series with Notre Dame, 16-4. The Tar Heels have won three straight and five of the last six in the series.
0 Eric Atkins (6-2, 182, Sr.) - 14.0 ppg, 4.8 apg
32 Steve Vasturia (6-6, 207, Fr.) - 3.8 ppg, 2.3 rpg
24 Pat Connaughton (6-5, 214, Jr.) - 13.3 ppg, 7.4 rpg
30 Zach Auguste (6-10, 242, So.) - 6.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg
11 Garrick Sherman (6-11, 255, Sr.) - 14.5 ppg, 8.0 rpg
23 Demetrius Jackson (6-1, 195, Fr.) - 6.3 ppg, 1.7 rpg
25 Tom Knight (6-10, 258, Sr.) - 4.4 ppg, 2.8 rpg
Roster & Bios
(Photos from USA Today Sports)