Despite losing each of their first two road games in ACC play to start the season, No. 20 North Carolina remains confident that its best basketball is ahead.
"It's a long season," senior forward Theo Pinson told the Raleigh News & Observer. "We have to stay together. You go through ups and downs but this can only make us better."
The Tar Heels (13-4, 2-2) will try to earn their first conference road victory when they visit Notre Dame on Saturday evening at Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center. The Tar Heels are coming off a 30-point win at home over Boston College but have lost two of their past three contests.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame (13-4, 3-1) also has something to prove after losing 60-53 against Georgia Tech on Wednesday night. The Fighting Irish played without two of their top contributors, forward Bonzie Colson and guard Matt Farrell, both of whom have been sidelined by injuries.
The duo's absences have led to more prominent roles for players such as sophomore forward Josh Mooney, who posted career highs in points (11) and rebounds (eight) against the Yellow Jackets. Fellow forward Martinas Geben also has stepped forward and is averaging a double-double in conference play with 10.5 points and 10.3 rebounds.
"We lost scoring and rebounding," Geben said to the South Bend Tribune in reference to Colson's and Farrell's injuries. "We all need to collectively step into those roles and produce."
The Tar Heels will try to avoid losing three conference games on the road for the first time since 2014. The program has posted a winning record on the road in ACC games in each of the past seven seasons and 11 of 14 years with Roy Williams as coach.
North Carolina is led in scoring by Luke Maye (18.2 points per game) and Joel Berry II (17.6). The Tar Heels have not had two players average 17-plus points for a season since the 1983-84 campaign, when Michael Jordan (19.6) and Sam Perkins (17.6) led the team.
Colson (21.4 points per game) and Farrell (15.9) account for a huge chunk of Notre Dame's offense. Look for the team to turn to T.J. Gibbs (14.6) to provide perimeter scoring while Geben, Mooney and others work down low.
Gibbs earned ACC Player of the Week honors for the first week of January after averaging 20 points and 5.5 rebounds in wins over North Carolina State and Syracuse.
Notre Dame coach Mike Brey has instilled a disciplined approach in his team so far. The Fighting Irish average 12.7 fouls per game, which is the best mark in the country.
On North Carolina's bench, Williams will seek his 830th career coaching win. That would pull him even with Mount St. Mary's Jim Phelan for seventh place in Division I history, according to the program. Williams' mentor, Dean Smith, won 879 games during his career.
This marks the 29th all-time meeting. North Carolina holds a commanding 21-7 series edge.