Location: South Bend, Ind.
Rankings: ND - No. 27 KenPom, No. 20 AP; UNC - No. 12 KenPom, No. 12 AP
Records: ND - 17-6, 6-4 ACC; UNC - 19-4, 7-2 ACC
Carolina Series History (Last Meeting): UNC leads 20-7 (UNC 88, Notre Dame 74, March 27, 2016, Wells Fargo Center)
The last time Carolina and Notre Dame got together, the Tar Heels scored 88 points in a 57-possession masterpiece to advance to the Final Four. While the Fighting Irish, like the Tar Heels, lost their top two players from that night in Philly, Mike Brey still has a nice core back from a team that surged late in 2016.
With Zach Auguste now playing professionally in Turkey and Demetrius Jackson in the NBDL after leaving South Bend early, the upperclassman quartet of V.J. Beachem, Steve Vasturia, Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell are sharing top billing for the Irish. Despite being just 6-5, Colson is Notre Dame's only real interior threat. And what a threat he is, averaging a double-double (15.6 ppg, 10.6 rpg) and ranking as the ACC's No. 2 defensive rebounder, an important contribution for a team that is in the bottom third of the league in both rebounding categories.
Pretty much every regular in the Notre Dame lineup other than Colson is a threat to shoot from deep. The Irish feature six players who make at least 38 percent of their 3s, including Farrell, who is connecting at a 50 percent clip in ACC play. Only Virginia has been better from the outside than ND, and Bray's squad is also deadly at the foul line. In a statistical quirk, not only is Notre Dame the second-best free throw shooting team in college basketball, but their opponents are also collectively the second-best foul shooters in the country. Each of the big four is 81 percent or better from the line and Vasturia is No. 11 nationally at 92.3 percent.
Defensively the Irish are improved from a year ago but still in the middle of the pack in the ACC, allowing 1.06 PPP in conference play. Much of that can be chalked up to their vulnerability on the boards. Opponents are rebounding better than 34 percent of their misses against ND, something that is sure to come up a time or two during Sunday's game.
Notre Dame shot out to a 5-0 start in the ACC thanks to an incredible knack for winning close games. In wins over Pitt, Louisville, Clemson, Miami and Virginia Tech, the Irish had an average margin of victory of less than five points. But that positive mojo has tilted in the other direction lately with losses of three points at Florida State, two points at Georgia Tech and 10 points at home to Duke in their recent 1-4 slide.
ND has a favorable schedule to finish, with two games against Boston College as well as a home rematch with Georgia Tech among its eight contests. But a fourth straight loss would likely put the Irish behind the eight ball in the push for an ACC Tournament double bye, so Sunday's "neutral" site game is a huge opportunity for both Notre Dame to close the gap at the top of the league standings.