UNC(11-5, 1-2) vs Maryland(14-3, 2-2), Noon, ESPN
In late December, UNC won a big game against UNLV. It was the first win of the season over a likely NCAA Tournament team and one that was ranked at the time. It was also a win that was thought to be a turning point of sorts for the season. After three losses by double digits to Butler, Indiana and Texas, winning against UNLV felt like it could be a nice turn for the better but that turn never materialized. UNC lost at Virginia then dropped a tough game to Miami in Chapel Hill seemingly cancelling out the progress found in the UNLV game.
Now the opportunity presents itself again only this time, with two ACC losses already, the Heels cannot afford to do much more identity searching. UNC is coming off a big road win and has that "turning moment" feel to it again. The question, starting today, is whether UNC can make the most of four out of the next six games at home in hopes of building some momentum to carry forward into the back half of the ACC schedule?
Maryland will certain provide a tough challenge especially with a strong interior game that will make rebounding a difficult proposition. Maryland is 2nd nationally in eFG defense and also 2nd in FG defense on two point shots. Maryland does a great job of forcing missed shots and also cleans up the defensive backboard with Alex Len and Charles MItchell doing a lion's share of the work. Mitchel is 51st nationally with a defensive rebounding rate of 24.4%. Len's DR rate is a modest 18.1% The result is fewer second chance points against a team that already forces poor shooting to begin with. One thing that Maryland does not do well on the defensive end is force turnovers(334th in TO%). UNC has be susceptible to unforced errors so helping a defense that doesn't really take away the ball effectively is asking for trouble.
Given Maryland's inside presence, UNC could really benefit from the same type of offensive production see a week ago against FSU. P.J. Hairston and Reggie Bullock did solid work when the offense was adjusted to get them shots. The relative success of the season going forward hinges a great deal on consistent performances from Bullock and Hairston, hopefully at the same time. With Leslie McDonald out again, there will be plenty of minutes to be had and Hairston needs to make the most of them.
Defensively, UNC will have its hands full with yet another team that is content to slow things down some and willing to slug it out in a low scoring affair. Maryland is 25th in 2P FG% but 178th in 3P FG% which means a heavy reliance on Len and the interior game. Stopping that will be tough because UNC simply doesn't have the bodies to compete with Len. That makes keeping everyone else in check very important. Len is probably going to get his. Making sure no one else does will be key.
Is this team capable of sustained success or are we in for a season peppered with big wins here or there with frustrating losses in between? Hopefully it will be the former.
UNC 68 Maryland 58