ELITE 8 PREVIEW: What you need to know about Notre Dame vs. North Carolina

(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
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WHEN: Saturday March 27th, 8:49 p.m.

WHERE: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, Pa.

MAJOR STORYLINES: This is the third time that these two programs. The first came back in January, when Notre Dame erased a 15-point deficit, pounded the much bigger Tar Heels on the offensive glass and, in the process, kicked the “UNC is soft” narrative into high gear. North Carolina clearly was not happy about that, because the second time these two programs got together, the Tar Heels won by 31 points in the ACC tournament, and the game probably wasn’t even that close.

But there’s more to it than just the rubber match. Mike Brey is trying to get his Notre Dame team to the Final Four for the first time, which would lend a bit of credibility to a program he lovingly refers to as a “stepchild”. They’re an afterthought in a conference, a basketball program at a football school. The story line with the Tar Heels is far more intriguing, however, because given Roy Williams’ age, health and the pending status of an investigation into the academic violations at UNC, might a Final Four — a national title? — be enough to convince Ol’ Roy to ride off into the sunset?

KEY MATCHUP: How will Notre Dame be able to handle UNC’s size? That’s always going to be the question when playing the Tar Heels. Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks are as big, physical and athletic as any team in the country. Notre Dame? They play some combo of 6-foot-6 Bonzie Colson and 6-foot-8 small forwards V.J. Beachem and Matt Ryan at the four-spot.

X-FACTOR: That North Carolina three-point shooting. Generally speaking, this is not a great three-point shooting team. Marcus Paige, their only real threat from deep, has been off all season long while the likes of Joel Berry, Justin Jackson and Nate Britt are inconsistent. But that all disappeared on Friday night, when they hit their first seven and 10 of their first 12 threes.

POINT SPREAD: North Carolina -9.5

THREE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

  1. V.J. Beachem’s shooting: The name’s that everyone talks about with the Fighting Irish are Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste. And those two are really good, don’t get me wrong, and Notre Dame cannot win without a big game from them, but they’re also going to need the good Beachem to show up. He’s developed a reputation for himself as one of the better clutch shooters in the tournament. They’re going to need that from his tonight.
  2. Marcus Paige: He played his best game in months on Friday, hitting his first four threes and finished with 21 points and six assists in the win over Indiana. Was that enough to bust him out of this slump that he’s been mired in for two months.
  3. Mike Brey’s leg: Brey injured himself early in the second half of the win over Wisconsin on Friday. He strained his calf. Here’s to hoping he coaches from a stool a la Ron Hunter.

CBT PREDICTION: Carolina wins the rubber match, and while it’s not as bad as the ACC semifinal matchup, the Tar Heels cover the spread.