It is the calm before the storm.
Earlier this week, I forecasted a Notre Dame vs. North Carolina final in the Maui Invitational here.
To be more clear, I predicted a slim Notre Dame victory in tonight's game. After watching yesterday's games, I am beginning to teeter, though I will stick with my original prediction.
North Carolina outplayed an overmatched Oregon Ducks team in every facet of the game last night, cruising to an easy 98-69 victory. I have worse news for Oregon and upcoming foe Notre Dame: The game was not nearly as close as the score indicates. The game was virtually over after the first 12 minutes (including a 17-1 UNC run), and the Heels sailed to a 51-22 halftime lead.
Danny Green had the hottest hand for UNC, hitting five of eight (.625) from behind the arc and eight of 12 overall (.667). As a team, North Carolina shot well from the field, shooting over 50 percent. Their defense was stingy as well, forcing 14 turnovers and more importantly holding the Ducks to a miserable 30.1 field goal percentage.
As expected, the Ducks were manhandled on the boards, outrebounded 55-26 by the faster and more athletic Tar Heels.
This game also marked the return of Tyler Hansbrough, who sat out the opening round game against Chaminade after tweaking his ankle against UC-Santa Barbara on Friday. He poured in 16 points (including 12-14 from the free throw line) in just 19 minutes, showing enough physical play to give Notre Dame a few nightmares as they rested in their Hawaii hotel rooms last night.
The bench, seeing plenty of playing time in the blowout, impressed for the most part as well. Ed Davis posted a double-double, scoring 11 points and grabbing 16 boards. Larry Drew II dished out five assists in just 16 minutes of play.
Next up for the Heels will be an impressive Notre Dame squad that edged Texas in a hard-fought contest, which marked the first collision between top-10 teams this college basketball season. Tonight's game against North Carolina will be the second.
Though defensive specialist Marcus Ginyard will still be out for UNC and Hansbrough is not expected to be at full strength for the contest, the Irish may be dealing with tired legs and emotional exhaustion after the thrilling victory over the Longhorns. Luke Harangody and Kyle McAlarney have been nothing short of spectacular since they arrived in Maui.
The Championship game should be the highlight of the November schedule thus far.