Who: Maryland (13-9, 5-4 ACC) at North Carolina (14-7, 4-4)
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Smith Center, Chapel Hill, N.C.
TV: WDCA-20, WNUV-54 (Tim Brant, play-by-play; Mike Gminski, analyst).
DMV radio: 105.7 FM, 1300 AM, 980 AM.
Coaches: Terps — Mark Turgeon (third season, 55-37). Tar Heels – Roy Williams (11th season, 296-86)
Kenpom rating: Maryland 77th, North Carolina 42nd.
RPI: Maryland 64th, North Carolina 32nd.
Any and all improvements the Maryland men’s basketball team thinks it has made over the past three games will be tested on the road against North Carolina on Tuesday night. Sure, beating Miami on a game-winning three-pointer by guard Dez Wells was electric, but the Hurricanes are 11-10 for a reason. Yes, routing Virginia Tech by 20 points was great for morale, but the Hokies are 0-for-2014. And so, as a double-digit underdog according to Vegas, Maryland sees an opportunity in the first of its four-game minefield. After some early-season struggles, the Tar Heels have whipped Clemson, Georgia Tech and North Carolina State by a combined 46 points. But they are vulnerable at home this season, having lost to Belmont, Texas and Miami there, so it’s not like Maryland is walking into a labyrinth of pain. The Terps claim everything is fine and dandy now, that their inconsistencies and mental errors are behind them, but testing that mettle against North Carolina will prove far more about their real status than Virginia Tech or Miami ever could.
1) Slow the tempo? An odd request given that Maryland excels in the fast break, allowing players like Dez Wells and Seth Allen to push the ball at will, and ranks second in the ACC in pace, but North Carolina (18th nationally) is first, and marginally faster than the Terps. Their offenses hover around the same efficiency, but the Tar Heels love sending waves of players down the sidelines on the fast break, allowing their big men to mop up defensive rebounds while the wings find open space.
“That’s difficult, because when you’re playing different-style teams, you really have to focus on the preparation when you’re going into the game,” Allen said. “That’s what the coaches are for. They tell us what we need. We play how we play. We’ll play for the best shot we can get. We’re not going to shoot fast like North Carolina will. We’re going to use the clock to get the best shot we can get.”
2) Handle the offensive boards? The Terps have struggled recently to limit second-chance opportunities for opponents, and North Carolina has crashed the offensive boards better than any team during ACC play. Freshman Kennedy Meeks, who comes off the bench like Charles Mitchell, ranks 45th nationally in the category, while 6-foot-9 sophomore Brice Johnson is 103rd. Maryland will have enough problems containing the motion-heavy offense and staying disciplined, but give up an offensive rebound and containing the Heels again on heavy legs becomes an entirely different issue.
3) Weather the storm? The next four fames could either catapult Maryland into relevancy, bury it even further in mediocrity or something in between. Clearly, though, the Terps are approaching road games against North Carolina, Duke and Virginia, and a home revenge date against Florida State, with optimism, that they can still salvage something positive. But they have lost seven straight to the Tar Heels and Turgeon has never beaten his mentor Roy Williams.
“We talked about it,” Turgeon said. “We had four of our next five on the road [before Virginia Tech]. Florida State is our home game which has pretty much owned us so we talked about them, then we have a lot of ranked teams coming up with Virginia twice, Duke on the road and Syracuse, then a North Carolina team that’s starting to play well. It’s a great opportunity for us. We’re 5-4. We’ve got a lot of great opportunities. We’ve still got a shot. We’ve still got a shot. I’d rather be playing good teams than teams who aren’t going to help us.”
19.7: Scoring average over the past three games for Dez Wells (he is shooting 70.4 percent from the field during that span).
91.3: Point guard Marcus Paige’s free throw percentage this season (84 for 92), best in the ACC.
34.9: Mitchell’s free throw percentage, more than 17 percentage points lower than his field-goal percentage.
“It’s been a great game over the years, 60 years or whatever, playing North Carolina. North Carolina’s one of the premier programs in the country. It’s a chapter that’s going to end. We’re just trying to win the game. I think coming off the Duke-Syracuse game the other night, there’s new rivalries that can be born. We’re going to lose a great rivalry here with North Carolina but I’m sure we’re going to have a few good ones in the future” – Turgeon.
“Well I still think of Maryland as an ACC school and I’ll always think that way. I’m old-fashioned, old-school. We’ve had some great, great games with them. I was here as an assistant for 10 years. I hate to see them leaving, but their administration made a decision they think is best for their school” – Williams.
THE TERPS TUNE OF TODAY
“People Say” by Portugal. The Man.