Preview & Prediction: By Raphielle Johnson
The 25th EA Sports Maui Invitational has reached its climax; with #1 North Carolina (5-0) taking on #8 Notre Dame (4-0) in Wednesday night’s final. Their semifinal victories don’t have much in common with the Tar Heels making short work of Oregon (98-69) while the Irish had to survive (81-80) four missed free throws (one of which was an air ball) and a heave from A.J. Abrams that nearly went in. Good news for Carolina in their win was the performance of preseason Player of the Year (national and ACC) Tyler Hansbrough. A stress reaction in his right leg forced the power forward to sit out their opener against Penn (there was little reason to play him against Chaminade), but he accounted for sixteen points (2-4 FG; 12-14 FT) and four rebounds against the Ducks.
The player who has stepped up for head coach Roy Williams in Maui has been Danny Green, who has put together back-to-back 20-plus point performances. Green went for twenty-one and eight rebounds in Tuesday’s blowout, and freshman Ed Davis posted a double-double off the bench (11 points, 13 rebounds). North Carolina did well against Oregon on the defensive end of the floor, limiting the Ducks to 30.6% from the field. But while Oregon can certainly shoot the basketball, their shot selection at times can leave something to be desired. Notre Dame doesn’t have that problem for the most part, and unlike the Ducks they’ve also got one of the best answers on the block in the nation in reigning Big East Player of the Year Luke Harangody.
While Harangody is the main man on the block for head coach Mike Brey, there are a number of long-range marksmen who can burn the Heels if left alone. First and foremost, North Carolina must keep an eye on senior Kyle McAlarney, who went 5-for-9 from downtown against Texas. Point guard Tory Jackson runs the show, but he’s going to have his hands full with Ty Lawson in arguably the best lead guard matchup of the season’s first month. The issue for the Irish in this game: rebounding. Notre Dame, despite attempting eleven fewer shots from the field than Texas, was outrebounded by nine in the semifinal. North Carolina, even with limited playing time for their stars due to the blowout, held a 55-24 advantage on the boards.
It’s not like the Irish are lacking in the height department; guys like Zach Hillesland and Luke Zeller are also called on to contribute. But they aren’t traditional bigs who will stay in the paint, and the fact that all five starters played at least thirty minutes against Texas isn’t a good sign for them. Look for North Carolina to win the Maui Invitational for the third consecutive time in which they’ve entered (1999-2000 and 2004-05). And both of those title seasons led to a Final Four berth at season’s end.
Winner: North Carolina Margin: 5-9 pts.
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About Raphielle Johnson
College sports has always been a source of excitement for Raphielle Johnson, be it through watching, writing, or taking a shot in the dark and walking onto a college football team just to live the life (Arizona Football, 2001). Raphielle is the assistant editor, providing his own work in addition to helping out with the site operations. When not writing for CHN, you can usually find him in front of a television set watching one of many pay-per-view sports packages that he owns. He can be followed at twitter.com/raphiellej.
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