North Carolina(24-9, 12-6 ACC) vs Miami(26-6, 15-3 ACC)
Results: UNC def. FSU 83-62, MD 79-76 UM def. BC 69-58, NCSU
This will be UNC's 32nd appearance in the ACC Championship game, an event UNC has won 17 times. It is only the eighth time the Heels have been the lower seed in the title game. UNC is 3-5 in those games. Also of note this is the third straight season the Tar Heel have made it to the ACC Tournament final having lost the last two. UNC has never lost three straight title games. After losing in 1987 and 1988, the Heels knocked off Duke to win the 1989 ACC Championship. Following losses to Duke in 1992 and Georgia Tech in 1993, UNC defeated Virginia to win the 1994 ACC Championship.
In other words, there is some history here and UNC is going to need every bit of it facing a Miami team that has beaten them twice this season, once in fairly humiliating fashion. The Hurricanes bring one of the best backcourts in the ACC and possibly the country. Shake Larkin and Durand Scott are exceptionally tough on both ends of the floor. Miami can hit threes and score on the interior. It is the nightmare of defending a balanced offensive attack plus a an aggressive defense on top of that.
However, if there is one advantage UNC might have in this game lies with Miami having not seen the smaller lineup before. Roy Williams made the change that saved the season after the 26 point loss to Miami four days before the Tar Heels met Duke in Durham. And while Miami has undoubtedly scouted the new lineup it will be interesting to see how they respond to it. As always, who P.J. Hairston guards and vice-versa draws the most attention. In this case, Hairston will be on 6-11 Kenny Kadji which is a tough cover except Kadji does not tend to post-up all that often. In many ways, Kadji acts more like a wing player than a 6-11 power forward which could work to UNC's advantage. That leaves James Michael McAdoo handling either Justin Gamble or Reggie Johnson, both of whom are strong enough to give McAdoo fits.
For UNC to win this game, it will come down to three point shooting and taking care of the basketball. With Miami's quick guards, making lazy passes just will not do. In fact, making passes that normally would be okay, might be issues. Miami is capable of harassing UNC into turnovers which leads to easy baskets. Since getting much on the interior will be tough, if there is a game for the Heels to go nuts from three like so many teams have done to them, this would be it. It will also take a team defensive effort which has been the least talked about aspect of the late season resurgence. The Tar Heel players do a much better job communicating, rotating and generally watching out for each other on the defensive end. Given Miami's balance that will be important.
This is a no pressure game for UNC other than the standard pressure that flows from being in a title game. Miami, being the #1 seed and regular season champion has much more to lose in this contest that UNC has. There is also the element of it being the program's first appearance in the title game and grabbing a piece of history in bringing home the Hurricanes first ACC Championship. The Heels on the other hand, can play loose but motivated. Revenge for the regular season losses and finally getting a win over a "good team" i.e. a team sitting above their tier would be a nice boost heading into the NCAA Tournament.
UNC 75 Miami 72