I know harking into the past isn’t something people want to hear often, but in this instance, I think it’s a necessity. As the great Billy Shakespeare once said, “What is past is prologue.” That probably applies here when we’re trying to figure out how the Terrapins can pull off an upset against the Tar Heels tonight. Looking back at previous upsets of North Carolina at the hands of Maryland helps give us a picture of the three things necessary to win.
The first one is perhaps the easiest of the bunch: guard the perimeter very, very well. It sounds simple because it is, in essence, an easy concept to grasp. North Carolina has a propensity to shoot three pointers, for better or worse. On nights when they’re on fire, they are an almost impossibly difficult team to beat because of how well they move the ball around the perimeter. It’s a Roy Williams brand of basketball that involves finding the open shooter on every possession. What the Terrapins need to do, and what they are capable of doing, is fight through screens and, at the very least, get a hand in the shooter’s face on every perimeter shot.
Since 2008, Maryland has gone 4-4 against North Carolina. When you take away this year and the three losses last season, the Terrapins are actually 4-0 against North Carolina since 2008. While Mark Turgeon hasn’t fared so well against Roy Williams, Gary Williams thrived because his teams focused on perimeter defense. In each of those four wins, North Carolina never shot over 33% from long range, and, like most of Roy’s teams, took a lot of midrange jumpers. When they don’t shoot well, there isn’t a low post go-to game to fall back on. From Wayne Ellington to Marcus Ginyard/Danny Green to Reggie Bullock, North Carolina has guys who like to shoot jumpers. Maryland has to contest those, so they get out of their comfort zone and into the lane where Alex Len lies.
North Carolina will have the option of going down low to McAdoo, but he is their only low post scoring option. He certainly presents matchup problems with his athleticism, but the Terrapins can make his life difficult by fouling him every time he gets the ball down low, and playing incredibly sound on-ball defense while bringing in help defenders. McAdoo isn’t known for his ability to find the open man, so Maryland can bring another man in to help if/when he does get by Shaq Cleare, James Padgett, Alex Len, or Charles Mitchell. Contest every shot, and Maryland starts the game off right.
The second weapon to beating North Carolina? Turn the game into nothing but half-court sets and hold onto the ball for your dear life. It’s no secret that the Tar Heels love to get out and run, which is why they are consistently one of the highest scoring teams in the nation year after year. Their transition game is typically second to none, and they capitalize on half-court turnovers to start 10-0 runs and other things of that ilk. The last game against Maryland, North Carolina attacked Maryland’s ball handlers early which forced turnovers at midcourt, and it led to numerous runs that the Terrapins couldn’t bounce back from.
This game, Maryland has to do largely the same thing they did last game, only a lot less sloppy when it comes to turning the ball over. North Carolina is going to get their 65-75 shots per game, but the Terrapins have to make them work for it. That means slowly bringing the ball up court, running down that shot clock to at least 15 seconds, and then getting back on defense ASAP. It isn’t as important that they win the rebounding battle as much as it is imperative that they slow down the breakneck pace that Roy Williams likes to play at.
In fact, in every game the Terrapins won against North Carolina over the past five years, they have never won the rebounding battle. On the contrary, they usually lose it by a wide margin. By controlling the tempo and not necessarily fighting for tough offensive rebounds, Maryland has been able to get back and limit the amount of transition baskets North Carolina is capable of scoring. It’s a counter-intuitive strategy for any basketball team, but it actually works in some cases (this being one of them.)
Finally, and perhaps the toughest thing for the Terrapins to do, is that they have to execute incredibly well. It’s a near-certainty that the Terrapins with Mark Turgeon at the helm are going to play a tough brand of defensive basketball. But what isn’t certain is how well they are going to execute. Well, looking back, the biggest difference between past wins and recent season’s losses has been the execution of the offense.
In each of Maryland’s wins against North Carolina, they have shot 45% or better from the field, and at least 40% from long distance and 80% from the charity stripe. Those are, of course, lofty numbers and very difficult to attain, but it is what is required to beat a team that Roy Williams coaches. Only the very best efforts come out victors against his teams, and it’s why he’s one of the top five winningest coaches in college basketball history. But the way to beat his teams is pretty clear-cut; limit the amount of bad shots you take, and capitalize on every opportunity.
That means Nick Faust is going to have to reign in some of the errant jumpers he has a sweet-tooth for. It means that Pe’Shon Howard is going to have to drive into the lane rather than settle for the jumper. It means that Jake Layman has to connect on his wide open three point attempts that he so often gets. It means that Charles Mitchell has to pass out of close layups rather than shoot it every time he gets the ball. And finally, it means that Alex Len has to use his height to his advantage, and get his footing in the post early for easy lay-ins. It’s a tall order, but it’s what has to happen if the Terrapins hope to beat North Carolina.
Do these three things, and I can guarantee a Maryland victory. While it may seem hopeless, it isn’t. And if history has told us anything, it’s that beating a Roy Williams team is entirely doable; in fact, it’s a 50/50 shot. Hopefully Mark Turgeon looks into the past for some guidance, as much as he may hate to do so.