CHAPEL HILL, NC - JANUARY 26: John Henson #31 of the North Carolina Tar Heels winks after a dunk against the North Carolina State Wolfpack during play at the Dean Smith Center on January 26, 2012 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
When and Where: Gary Williams Court at the Comcast Center, College Park, Md.; 4:00
Where to Watch: ESPN, ESPN3.com
Line: Vegas: North Carolina -12.5 KenPom: North Carolina by 14, 14% chance of Maryland victory
- Student meets teacher. Mark Turgeon is, most accurately, from the Larry Brown coaching tree. But you could argue that he's just as much a part of the Roy Williams coaching tree; Turge was one of Ol' Roy's assistants at KU in the early '90s. This is their first meeting as dueling head coaches, and should make for an interesting pre-game meeting.
- Harrison Barnes: the second-most discussed ankle in the country. Rob Gronkowski takes the cake by a fair amount, but Barnes has been fighting an ankle injury of his own. He's questionable for this afternoon's game; he was in crutches on Wednesday and didn't practice on Thursday. Maryland doesn't have much a chance, but Barnes being out is perhaps the most conducive upset atmosphere they could have.
- History: on Maryland's side. No, really. The Terps have won two of the last three against the Tar Heels, and four of the last six. If Maryland is cursed by Coral Gables, they're lucky as hell against UNC: the wins included the miraculous Grevis Vasquez tripe-double game, the undefeated road win that resulted in the infamous "go back to the ghetto!" shout, and a seven-minute, twelve-point comeback sparked by 27 points from D.J. Strawberry. If ever there was going to be a crazy 45-point Terrell Stoglin game, this would be the opponent for it.
- Something's got to give, free throw edition. In Maryland, you have the second-best team in the country in getting to the free throw line. In UNC, you have the best team in the country at not giving up free throws. I have a hunch that the winner of that one won't be the one we like, but it'll be one of the more esoteric battle royales you'll see this year.
- PSA: a lot of really good recruits are there. Stefon Diggs. Adam Breneman. Rysheed Jordan. And a ton more. Make them feel welcome, yeah?
The Opponent (An Overview): They're good. Really good. They might not be ranked as the best team in the country, but I don't think you could convince me that any team - not Kentucky, not Syracuse, not Ohio State, not Kansas - is as stacked 1-5 as UNC is. They possess arguably the best point guard in the country, plus perhaps the best frontcourt and an elite wing scorer. All three of their losses came on the road to top-20 KenPom teams, although the Florida State wipeout was suitably embarrassing. They're likely the best team in the ACC, and I'd be surprised to see them lose another game. They're ranked 8th in KenPom, 6th in Sagarin, and 11th in RPI. True to Carolina form, they love to run, with one of the fastest tempos in the country. That said, they were only going about eight deep on a regular basis early in the season; then they lost Dexter Strickland, and now they're in danger of losing Barnes. If that happens, they'd be down to one regular contributor on the bench: James McAdoo, who isn't going to be spelling anybody at the 2. I'm not sure you ever want to get into a track meet with Carolina, but if they can get some guys in foul trouble Maryland will have the numbers advantage.
Expected Starting Fives:
|Pe’Shon Howard (So., 6-3)||Kendall Marshall (So., 6-3)|
|Terrell Stoglin (So., 6-0)||Reggie Bullock (So., 6-7)|
|Sean Mosley (Sr., 6-4)||Harrison Barnes (So., 6-8)|
|James Padgett (Jr., 6-8)||John Henson (Jr., 6-10)|
|Ashton Pankey (Fr., 6-9)||Tyler Zeller (Sr., 7-0)|
Howard didn't start against Miami, but he played 43 minutes and Turgeon said that he would likely return to the starting lineup for this one. The two questions on Maryland's side: does Sean Mosley start?, and does Alex Len start? On the first I'd think yes a hundred times, but he was pretty awful against Miami and saw Nick Faust take the majority of his minutes. Keep an eye on it. For Len, that's less clear; I really don't want Padgett on Henson, much less Pankey on Zeller. Len starting would mitigate, at least somewhat, the advantage the Heels have on the inside. On UNC's side, Barnes is the big question; if he can't go, you'd think P.J. Hairston would be the next in line.
And, as we always ask: seriously, who does Terrell Stoglin guard? Kendall Marshall? On the plus side Marshall rarely shoots, so you're not giving up too much in that regard, and he's not overly quick, so Stoglin should be able to stay in front of him. Plus, Marshall's huge reputation should play well into Stoglin's pride factor. That might have to be it, unless you're comfortable with him guarding a 6-7 sniper. I thought not.
Actually closer than I expected. UNC holds advantages basically across the board - between UNC hardly ever fouling and Maryland hardly ever hitting their foul shots, FT rate should basically be a non-factor - but not by a ton. If Maryland can cut down on turnovers and get a strong performance on the boards from Alex Len, the four factors battle could actually be fairly close.
Matchup to Watch: Not to be all depressing here, but it has to be Pe'Shon Howard vs. Kendall Marshall, doesn't it? If Maryland is going to win, they need to get a big performance out of Pe', in every sense: putting up points, perhaps, but more importantly keeping the offense steady, not turning the ball over, and not letting things devolve into Stoglin vs. The World. Marshall's a master at those sorts of things. Pe', historically, hasn't been.
Prediction: North Carolina is the better team by a country mile. But Maryland has a way of making these sorts of games interesting. A sprited showing and Alex Len's best game against his best competition make this one much closer than UNC wants, but the Tar Heels ultimately have too much quality. UNC by 11.