Who: Maryland Terrapins at North Carolina Tar Heels
What: A chance to prove that this team can travel
When: High noon on Saturday
Where: The Dean Dome and for the first time this season, the mothership (ESPN)
Line: North Carolina (-5)
If you know me personally, then you know that there’s nothing I enjoy more than a big win over North Carolina. I understand the Duke rivalry. After all, I’m a Maryland alumni who firmly believes that freshman Blue Devils have a mandatory seminar on how to act and play like a pain in the ass (Greg Paulus, Josh McRoberts, Jon Scheyer). But the players are one thing. I respect the hell out of Mike Krzyzewski, who is in my opinion the best college basketball coach of all-time (feel free to leave rebuttals in the comment section, I’ll refute them).
On the other hand, this weekend Maryland makes their annual visit to Chapel Hill to face one of the most overrated coaches in the sport. I’m not a Roy Williams fan, because although I think he’s a great recruiter (although UNC is one of those programs that recruits itself) I think he’s only as good as the cards he’s dealt. And by that I mean, think about Maryland’s 2009 NCAA tournament appearance. That team had Dave Neal starting at center, and had absolutely no business beating good teams. Yet somehow Gary was able to get by on blind stealing and stone cold bluffs most of the season, and that undermanned team clawed its way into March. Roy has never done that, because in order for him to be a good coach he needs nothing but the absolute best.
In 2009-2010, the Tar Heels went 20-17 with a team that included 7 McDonalds All-Americans. He’s routinely had his pick of the litter when it comes to high school seniors, and yet he somehow runs into subpar seasons like this one (11-5; 1-2 ACC). Plenty of coaches would kill for the Tar Heels roster (4 McDonalds All-Americans) and yet UNC is 11-5 with losses to Texas (8-8; 145 RPI) and Virginia (11-5; 159 RPI). Point blank, I want this win so the Terps can be a part of Roy trying to explain away another non-elite team underperforming.
No Tar on these Heels:
In the last post I wrote, I said that Maryland struggled with transition defense. Well, the time to adjust is here, because North Carolina puts on the unlimited turbo cheat code before every game. In what has become a Roy Williams staple, this team mirrors the Mike D’Antonti philosophy of “7 seconds or less” (73.9 possessions per 40 minutes, 9th in NCAA).
At the center of it all is James Michael-McAdoo the boy who would be the next king of Chapel Hill. At the beginning of the season, he was projected to be the next big thing for Tar Heel nation, as well as a lottery pick. Now? He’s still a big, athletic four who gets the lions share of the offensive opportunities (200 FGA; 2nd in ACC), but it’s become very obvious that he’s not the force of nature that UNC fans were anticipating (20+ points in only one game this season, 10+ rebounds in four). McAdoo doesn’t really worry me too much, Mitchell and Cleare should be able to body him just fine, so he won’t be taking over anything tomorrow.
The guy who DOES scare me is junior swingman Reggie Bullock. Bullock is a 6’7” sharpshooter who’s second on the team in scoring (13.5 ppg). He combines a great 3 point percentage (46.9%), with solid rebounding (5.8 rpg). What kept NC State in the game on Wednesday was Scott Wood’s perimeter shooting. If someone were to start a Carolina run today, I would expect it to be Reggie Bullock.
Marcus Paige is UNC’s freshman point guard, and as talented as he is (ESPN had him as the #1 PG recruit of the 2012 class), there’s no tougher place for a freshman to play than at the point. Paige isn’t a scoring threat (34.5 FG%, 32.1 3pt%), and of late his passing hasn’t exactly been on the mark either (11 assists 10 turnovers in his last three games). At 6’1” 157 lbs, he’s one of the few guards in the conference that Seth Allen won’t be at a physical disadvantage against. If Allen can really show up on defense tomorrow and fluster his more highly touted classmate into mistakes, it could disrupt the whole flow of the UNC offense.
The last guy to watch for is P.J. Hairston, another Roy Williams pickup from the golden arches (13th best recruit of 2011 on ESPN). With Leslie McDonald’s knee injury, Hairston’s minutes have taken a jump, and he responded last game with 23 points in Tallahassee. He was known as a shooter coming out of high school, but until last game it hadn’t really translated. Whether his streaks run hot or cold could be a major swing factor tomorrow, and he usually takes at least 10 shots a game, so expect to hear his name for better or worse.
Three things to watch for:
Battle on the boards: Maryland’s rebounding has still been solid recently, but not the dominant force it was earlier in the season. In fact, they’ve been beaten on the offensive glass in every game of the ACC schedule. UNC will provide a huge test, as they’re tied with the Terps at 43.2 rpg (2nd in NCAA). I’ll say this right now, Maryland will not win this game without outrebounding Carolina. Not in the Dean Dome at least, so keep an eye on those rebounding numbers.
Who’s going to step up and make shots? Florida State was an absurd 11/22 from downtown against the Tar Heels, so the opportunities should be there. My guess here is Allen, who really appears to be progressing as a scorer and should feel a boost of confidence now that he’s playing majority off the ball on offense and can focus on his preternatural scoring ability.
Pe’shon’s offense: On Wednesday, NC State practically dared Pe’Shon Howard into shooting long range jump shots, and he obliged. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if UNC played him the same way. He’s not going to turn into a good shooter over night, but Howard is a smart player. So I hope to see him take a few steps up and either take some shorter jumpers or drive to the basket where he’s much more effective.
Short and sweet here, Carolina will be desperate as they are clinging to their tournament life, but I think Maryland’s defense is able to hold them in check while the Terps shooters finally start hitting the bulls eye against a younger, weak defensive team.
Maryland – 81 North Carolina – 72