North Carolina (24-10) take on Notre Dame (28-5) in the 2015 ACC Tournament final on Saturday night, after both squads pulled off upsets to reach the championship game. The game is an unlikely matchup after two possible NCAA Tournament No. 1 seeds, Duke and Virginia, were sent packing in the semifinals.
The Tar Heels, No. 19 (AP Poll), beat No. 3 Virginia 71-67, while No. 11 Notre Dame knocked out No. 2 Duke, 74-64. North Carolina will be attempting to win their first tournament championship since 2008, while Notre Dame will make their first-ever conference title appearance.
North Carolina has played the role of giant killers throughout the tournament, beating the ACC’s fourth-seeded Louisville and top-seeded Virginia. Notre Dame earned a bit of revenge for a demoralizing 30-point loss Duke handed them the last time the two squads met on Feb. 7. Both teams should be full of confidence entering the ACC final and the NCAA Tournament. Notre Dame, a program that has earned a reputation for struggling in the postseason, may be in particularly good spirits.
“Everyone was hungry and anxious for March to come,” Notre Dame forward Pat Connaughton said to ESPN. “We’re a team that did some things Notre Dame hasn’t done in the regular season, but the postseason is what everyone remembers. Everyone remembers March Madness. Everyone remembers we haven’t gotten out of that first weekend in a while, but we said, 'Look we’re going to use this tournament to really springboard us into [the NCAAs].”
Before the big dance comes, Notre Dame will try to take the ACC Tournament title. UNC will certainly be a worthy opponent. The Tar Heels have a balanced offense with a solid group of scoring options. Freshman swingman Justin Jackson carried UNC in the win over Virginia, scoring 22 points on a shooting explosion, draining four three-pointers after averaging just 26 percent from behind the arc all season.
The finals matchup should be a high-scoring, fast-paced affair. Both teams are in the top 20 in scoring in the country and rely on star guards. Senior guard Jerian Grant leads the way for the Fighting Irish, scoring 16.6 points per game while averaging 6.5 assists. North Carolina star Marcus Paige has benefitted from the emergence of other scoring options to held shoulder the load. He leads the team with 13.6 ppg and 4.6 apg.
Start Time: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Live Stream: Online at WatchESPN
Prediction: The game should be a fun one. Look for Paige and Grant to battle it out in the backcourts. In the end, UNC should win a close one.
North Carolina over Notre Dame, 78-74