Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
The Teams: Maryland Terrapins (13-9, 5-4 ACC) and North Carolina Tar Heels (14-7, 4-4 ACC)
The Time: 8:00 PM
The Location: Dean E. Smith Center, Chapel Hill, North Carolina
TV/Radio: ESPN3, 105.7 FM, ACC Digital Network
The Backstory: The Maryland Terrapins are playing some good basketball right now, and are headed to Chapel Hill riding a two game winning streak. Following a close loss at home to Pittsburgh, the Terps rattled off two straight victories against cellar dwellers Miami and Virginia Tech in (somewhat) convincing fashion. First, a should-have-been ten point victory over Miami, then a destruction of Virginia Tech, which may have been better than they’ve played all year.
Thanks in part to Dez Wells (15.0 PPG), the Terrapins extended the Hokies losing streak to eight games, winning for the third straight time against Tech, 80-60. Wells scored 19 points and missed only 3 shots in total; he’s averaging 20 points per game over his last two games and those last three misses have been his only ones from the floor. Point guard Seth Allen (3.8 APG) also continued to find his shooting stroke, going 5-of-9 from the floor for 18 points, but more importantly he had 7 assists to only two turnovers.
If the Terps are Zoolander hot right now, the Tar Heels are Hansel. Following an 0-3 start to ACC play, North Carolina has gone 4-1 since and have been winners in three straight games. The Tar Heels recently dispatched in-state rival North Carolina State in convincing fashion, 84-70 at home, so they’re playing good ball.
Led by sophomore point guard Marcus Paige (16.7 PPG, 4.4 APG) and junior James Michael McAdoo (15 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 1.1 BLK), the Tar Heels are a fast moving team that knows they need to win now and win often to make up for their slow start to the season. They’re one of the better passing teams in the nation at 15.9 assists per game, and are just as good at rebounding. While they don’t have an elite big man, Kennedy Meeks has been filling in nicely lately, grabbing eight or more rebounds in four of his last five contests and scoring in double figures three of the last five games.
Something’s gotta give, though, when these two teams meet. Which one will?
Big storyline: Conference jostling for tourney hopes
Maryland is ahead of UNC in the ACC standings, but UNC has the better overall record. If Maryland beats UNC in a head-to-head matchup, they’ll be in good position should a tie-breaker scenario occurs. It’ll also put them in a three-way tie for third place. For North Carolina, they beat Maryland and leapfrog them in the standings. Right now, they’re 4 games back to Maryland’s 3.5. If they hold fort and win the games they’re supposed to win, they won’t have to worry about the Terps.
Give me a key matchup
Seth Allen vs Marcus Paige
While neither of these teams are too heavily reliant on one player, this matchup is going to play a major factor for either team winning this game. Both guards are pretty similar players: 6’1, quick, reliant on the deep ball, talented passers, and able to get to the line easily. Paige is clearly the better scorer right now, but as Allen works his way back into playing shape, he’s becoming just as formidable a point guard.
These two will probably find themselves matched up against one another more often than not when they play, and it’s going to come down to who does better on the defensive end where neither is too great. Allen has a lightning quick release, and if he is draining long balls to space the floor, his effect may actually be larger than if Marcus Paige is having an on night shooting. Paige has been surrendering a good amount of points to opposing guards (21 vs Trae Golden, 12 against Anthony Barber, London Perrantes had 8 points and 9 assists), and getting into foul trouble. If Seth Allen can get him into issues early on and force Nate Britt to play more, the Terps may gain an edge.
Color By Numbers:
3 – The number of ranked opponents North Carolina has beaten this season (Michigan State, Kentucky, Louisville). They’re 3-1 against ranked teams this year.
6 – The number of times Mark Turgeon has faced North Carolina the past two seasons. He’s 0-6 against the Tar Heels.
14.4 – James Michael McAdoo’s point per game average against the Terps the last four matchups.
41.3 – The number of rebounds the Tar Heels grab per game, good for 9th nationally.
Maryland wins if…
They stop James Michael McAdoo. Terps fans have to hate this guy by now, and Mark Turgeon can’t like him. If there’s been one player who has proven to be nigh unstoppable, it’s McAdoo. His athleticism made Alex Len look like a springboard to the rim for him last year. I’m not sure the Terps have a guy on the roster who can frustrate him into using those iffy post moves, either.
How do you stop him? You limit points off turnovers and grab defensive rebounds. McAdoo loves to rush up the court on the break and prep himself for alley-oops, and he loves putbacks even more. He finishes at the rim incredibly well, and Maryland’s got to keep him from getting those opportunities quickly, because before you know it, he has 12 points on six shots. He’ll kill you before you even notice.
That responsibility falls on Jonathan Graham and Damonte Dodd, really. Those two are the only guys on the roster who should be able to hang with him. Dodd’s length could cause problems, and Graham’s intensity and willingness to get in your face should help. Avoid Smotrycz or Layman guarding him from the perimeter at all costs, though. He’ll blow right by them.
Prediction: Terps don’t take this one, and give up a lot of points. 83-75 UNC, sorry.