Editor’s Note: This article was written by staff writer Chris Bengel, resident Terrapin hoops buff. Be sure to follow him on Twitter @DurtyPuckHead for increasingly awesome Maryland factoids.
The Teams: Maryland Terrapins (14-3) vs North Carolina Tar Heels (11-5)
The Time: 12 pm ET
The Location: Dean E. Smith Center. Chapel Hill, NC
TV/Radio: ESPN, WatchESPN, 105.7 FM
The Backstory: The Maryland Terrapins are coming off their biggest upset in nearly two seasons as they knocked off #14 North Carolina State on Wednesday night. It was a game that the Terrapins needed due to their struggles in back-to-back losses to Florida State and Miami. The offense continued its struggles and missed a good amount of easy shots, but they did continue to play superb defense and held one of the top scoring offenses in the country to under 30-percent shooting. This win should do wonders for the confidence of a young team that may have grown up a little bit after such a win.
On the other hand, North Carolina started off ACC play by dropping decisions to Virginia and Miami. However, the Tar Heels rebounded with a much-needed win over Florida State last Saturday. Guard P.J. Hairston scored 23 points on 9-of-14 shooting for North Carolina. Highly-touted big man James Michael McAdoo also had a strong game as he netted 14 points and grabbed eight rebounds for the Tar Heels. They’ve been all over the place as of late and don’t really have that go-to scorer. It seems to be a different guy every night.
Keys to the game
1.) Control the boards
Maryland and North Carolina are two of the top three rebounding teams in the country. The Terrapins rank second (43.2 rpg) while the Tar Heels rank third (43.2 rpg). They are that close. Both squads have absolute trees down low. Maryland boasts the most-improved player and potential top-five NBA draft pick Alex Len. When the Ukrainian center is on, it’s hard to stop him. Len is currently averaging 13.5 ppg and 8.1 rpg and is coming off a phenomenal game against the Wolfpack. Len scored the last six points in the Terrapins victory and has scored in double figures in all four ACC contests. Freshman Shaquille Cleare also had a solid game in his start at center against NC State. The Houston native scored eight points and pulled down five boards while looking very comfortable in the post and didn’t appear rattled by the pressure.
On the contrary, North Carolina has their own big man to boast about. Sophomore forward James Michael McAdoo is the Tar Heels’ leading scorer (14.4 ppg) and rebounder (8.1 rpg). McAdoo has scored in double figures in all but one game this season and is North Carolina’s number-one option in the post. The Norfolk native can do it all on the offensive end but isn’t quite the shot-blocker that Len is. McAdoo only has three blocks on the year as opposed to Len’s 36 (2.1 bpg).
2.) Find a groove on the offensive end
The Terrapins are only shooting 38.6-percent in four ACC games this season. That average doesn’t quite put Maryland’s shooting woes in perspective because they shot 51.7-percent against Virginia Tech in the ACC opener. The Terrapins got to a fast start against NC State and jumped out to an 8-0 lead but eventually cooled off. They shot 34.4-percent (21-of-61 from the field) and an abysmal 16.7-percent (3-of-18) from three-point range. The Terrapins need to be patient and take better shots when those opportunities present themselves.
As coach Mark Turgeon alluded to after his team’s win over NC State, Maryland has been strong on the defensive end and has been guarding all year. The Terrapins need to trust each other and make sure they don’t hesitate when a good shot presents itself. Pe’Shon Howard was one of the many players that struggled shooting the ball on Wednesday night. Howard shot 3-of-9 from the field and missed three of four three-point attempts. The junior guard seemed to hesitate when he had an open shot from three-point range. Howard is mainly depended on to be a distributor on offense and a game manager. Any offense that Howard gives Maryland is a bonus but he needs to reestablish his confidence.
According to ESPN college basketball writer Eamonn Brennan (@eamonnbrennan) UNC guard Leslie McDonald is doubtful for tomorrow’s matchup with the Maryland Terrapins. McDonald has already missed two games this week with a sore right knee and Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams stated today when questioned on McDonald’s status “I am more doubtful about Leslie than I was earlier in the week,”. McDonald averages 8.4 PPG in 17.9 minutes per contest for the Tar Heels.