The Fighting Irish open their 2019-20 campaign on Wednesday with an ACC matchup in Chapel Hill against coach Roy Williams and No. 9 North Carolina (7 p.m. ET/6 p.m. CT, ACCN).
This year marks the first time the ACC is going to feature a 20-game conference slate, as seven league matchups highlight the first two days of the college basketball regular season.
Notre Dame opened a 13-point underdog offshore on Tuesday, but early action quickly drove the line down to +10.5. The total opened at 151.5.
Freshman phenom Cole Anthony makes his much-anticipated debut for the Tar Heels. The 6-foot-3 diaper dandy point guard is already the No. 1 overall pick on many 2020 NBA mock drafts and is set to make an immediate impact as one of the nation’s most exciting new stars.
Williams has traditionally structured his team with a heavy assortment of upperclassmen, always preferring to develop his own players instead of turning to the transfer market. This year’s squad deviates from the norm, however, with two potential one-and-done freshmen and two graduate transfers joining a core group of five homegrown upperclassmen.
The 2019-20 UNC team loses its top five scorers from last year, and although the Tar Heels have the talent to compete for an ACC title and a Final Four appearance, it may take a bit more time than Williams is used to for his team to gel and hit the ground running. The coaching staff needs to learn how to incorporate all of the new pieces together, and it is unrealistic for handicappers to envision a situation where the transfers and new freshmen click together right off the bat.
Contrast that with their Wednesday opponent, a Notre Dame team that returns all five starters from last year. Coach Mike Brey will especially enjoy the return of his captain and emotional leader, Rex Pflueger.
“We missed him,” Brey said during the offseason. “It will be neat to have him back.”
Pflueger missed the remainder of the 2018-19 season after suffering a knee injury in mid-December, but the fifth-year senior returns to provide an important inside presence and leadership stability that last year’s team sorely lacked.
With its leader back, Notre Dame has the experience to compete with a talented Tar Heel frontline that features 6-foot-8 Leaky Black, 6-foot-9 Garrison Brooks, and 6-foot-10 Armando Bacot.
Brey will command an Xs and Os advantage against his Wednesday coaching counterpart, and the veteran-laden Irish have a great opportunity to stay in the game at the Dean Dome on Wednesday night against a Tar Heel team that has plenty of new pieces to fit together. UNC will try to push the tempo, but Brey’s players have the experience and mental poise to withstand the pressure.
Notre Dame is a buy-on team in the betting market early on in the brand-new college basketball season, and Wednesday night is the first opportunity to get into play on a program that is poised to exceed preseason expectations.
Pick: Notre Dame at +11 or better
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