Notre Dame-UNC game headlines this week in ACC
A look at the upcoming week around the Atlantic Coast Conference:
GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 20 Notre Dame at No. 12 North Carolina. The Tar Heels (20-4, 8-2) sit in first place in the league just ahead of No. 9 Virginia (17-4, 7-2), while No. 6 Louisville (18-4, 6-3) and No. 15 Florida State (19-4, 7-3) lurk a bit further back. The game against the Fighting Irish starts a backloaded February schedule for UNC with six teams ranked in the Top 25. Notre Dame (17-6, 6-4) is desperately trying to regain its footing; the Irish started 5-0 in the ACC before losing four of five, most recently a home game against No. 21 Duke.
LOOKING AHEAD: There are two big games looming next week, starting with No. 6 Louisville’s visit to No. 9 Virginia on Monday night in a matchup of teams huddled near the top of the league standings. Three nights later comes the season’s first rivalry meeting between UNC and Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium. ”We’ve got to be better defensively,” UNC forward Justin Jackson said. ”If we can do that, if we can truly, truly step up on the defensive end, I think we can really make a push. But we can’t make a run unless we get stops.”
PLAYER TO WATCH: It’s time to pay more attention to what’s going on in Atlanta. Picked to finish 14th in the ACC, the Yellow Jackets (13-9, 5-5) enter the weekend firmly in the middle of the pack with wins against ranked UNC, FSU and Notre Dame teams. And much of the credit for that goes to freshman guard Josh Okogie, who is among the league leaders in scoring (15.2 points) and a four-time ACC rookie of the week. His season includes a 35-point effort in the win against the Seminoles and a buzzer-beating layup to beat the Irish.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS: The league doesn’t have a top-five team in the polls, but it’s making up for that with depth. As of Thursday afternoon, the ACC had five teams in the top 20 of the NCAA’s RPI listings, more than any other league (the Big East is closest with four). The ACC also has five teams in the top 17 of Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency ratings, while no other league has more than three.
ON THE WOMEN’S SIDE: The ACC has seven Top 25 teams and four of them play each other Monday night: No. 7 Notre Dame plays host to No. 9 Louisville while No. 6 Florida State is home against top rival and 16th-ranked Miami. The Fighting Irish and Seminoles share the league lead with 8-1 conference records and both of their losses have come to the same team – No. 19 N.C. State.
Compiled by AP Basketball Writer Aaron Beard and AP Sports Writer Joedy McCreary in Raleigh, North Carolina.