Where: Dean Smith Center, Chapel Hill, NC
When: Sunday, February 27th, 7:45 PM
TV: Fox Sports South
Records: UNC 21-6, 11-2 ACC; MD 18-10, 7-6 ACC
At approximately 10:57 PM last night in Blacksburg, Virginia Tech handed UNC the keys to the car. All the Heels have to do is win the final three games of the regular season and they win the ACC regular season title.
The catch is there are no easy games left and not just because the Tar Heel offense has had issues of late. UNC will face three teams in the next seven days who all need/want wins for one reason or another. In the case of Maryland, the Terps could very well be starting at the NIT if they do not win in Chapel Hill. Sitting at 18-10 and 7-6 in the ACC, they still have a shot at 10 ACC wins with Miami and UVa to close out the season. In addition to the stakes for Maryland, Gary Williams is 6-5 all time versus Roy Williams. Maryland has won a game versus UNC in each of the past four season. Even in 2007-2009 when the Heels were clearly better, Maryland still found a way to win. In 2008 UNC only had three losses, one was versus Duke minus Ty Lawson, Kansas in the Final Four and NIT bound Maryland at home. This game is as dangerous as they come for all the intangible reasons you can come up with.
As for the tangible ones, Maryland brings with them a big man in Jordan Williams who will give Tyler Zeller and John Henson a stiff challenge on the interior. Williams is averaging 17.5 ppg and 11.5 rpg. He takes up space, grabs tons of rebound and has that quick recovery to score again. He is also strong enough to get his share of three point plays. If Zeller guards him, it could get ugly or worse Zeller ends up being an assistant coach for most of the game via foul trouble. Henson's length will make for an interesting test for Williams and could be the answer though Williams can still outmuscle Henson. That means Justin Knox will see some important minutes also. The other concern for UNC is Maryland sports three players sporting a 3P% of 33% or better. Freshman Terrell Stoglin has been on fire of late breaking UNC's stranglehold on ACC ROY last Monday. Stoglin dropped 25 versus Virginia Tech and NC State respectively. In a win over FSU this past week Stoglin had 17 points. On paper it appears Maryland has the pieces and if they have the right kind of shooting night, it could give UNC trouble.
On the other ends, Maryland is a solid defensive team sporting the nation's 11th rated defense. The Heels found some offense versus NC State with the perimeter players hitting some shots but more importantly, Dexter Strickland and Kendall Marshall taking the ball to the basket. The Heels need that kind of play from the guards as well as a few three pointers to keep Maryland honest on defense. Life on the interior is going to be tough enough as it is with William down there. Getting another good night of production from the perimeter players like the Heels got in the 2nd half versus NC State might be enough to give the Heels the edge.
The talk among UNC fans will be about making a run for the ACC regular season title. The mentality of Roy Williams and ostensibly the player themselves will be on the game in front of them. This season has really unfolded with a "take one game at a time" mentality to it. The reason being there have not been any games, save Wake Forest, this team could look past. They are still young and the offense too suspect to have 100% confidence they can win any given game in conference. Which what makes the whole concept of winning the ACC regular season so darn odd. After last season, heck after Georgia Tech it seems like some wild dream. Since that is the case, to quote Gene Hackman in Hoosiers, "let's keep it right there for now." The important point is UNC has an opportunity and the first step is beating Maryland.
Time to take care of business.
UNC 77 MD 68