Where + When: 7:00 at Comcast Center, College Park, Md.
Where to Watch: ESPN
Lines: Vegas: UNC -1 KenPom: UNC by 1
Notes / Storylines
Senior Night. Not exactly a big day in College Park - hasn't been for a few years now, not since the magical Greivis Vasquez/Eric Hayes/Landon Milbourne night. But we'll be bidding adieu to James Padgett, who's been a solid program guy for all four years, and Logan Aronhalt, who we knew for far too short a time. I'm
Is it supposed to snow or something? I tell you, man, you move out of the area and suddenly it becomes impossible to stay up on local weather. People seem to talking about some snow or something, though, which should conjure up memories of the 2003 game against Wake Forest or the 2010 game against - you guessed it - North Carolina, albeit a very poor North Carolina. Weather sites seem to differ on their opinions of just how bad things will get, but it doesn't appear that such extreme measures will need to be taken. Still, I find it impossible to view this any other way than Mother Nature coming down on our side and helping turn the trip to the Comcast Center into as much of a hell as possible for Carolina. The fans will have to take over once the Heels gets in the building.
White Ops. I'm a fan. They're not quite the regular home uniforms, even if they're not far off; the trim has a slight difference, and the secondary colors are simpler, bolder, and thereby starker. It looks like UA's done something with the white, though, making it a brighter and purer white than they use for the home uniforms. I thought the White Ops for football were by far the best look of the year, and I'm inclined to say the same here. These things are fire.
Yes, there's that tournament thing, too. I've turned increasingly bearish on Maryland's chances to make the tournament, because 1) I don't really rate their resumé and 2) I don't really rate their consistency, which means I don't think they can pull off the three or four wins down the stretch they'll need to make themselves a serious contender. The committee does crazy things every year, though; if you're Maryland, you just want to give them a chance to put you in the 68. Just put your name in the conversation and see what happens. If that's the goal, they can lose this game without it being the end of the world, but I'd feel a lot better if they won it.
The Opponent (An Overview)
Maryland's battling on the tournament fringes, but UNC has quietly pushed themselves firmly into the field. This isn't a vintage Carolina by any stretch, as evinced by their relatively middling resumé and composite eight-seed present standing. But they're slowly, surely starting to gel together over the past month: since getting pasted by Miami, they've lost to Duke by only five in Durham before winning five in a row, including an 11-point victory over State and a 12-point win over Virginia. That was before UVA started on their recent tear, granted, and the other teams were the dross of the ACC, but it's still looking like the Heels are coming together.
Hopefully that's just a product of their competition, because when Maryland met them earlier in the year in Chapel Hill they were virtually blitzed out of the game by halftime. A valiant second-half showing led by Dez Wells made things respectable, but you got the feeling that UNC had taken their foot off the gas a bit; Maryland never really made a game of it. Not much has changed since then: they'll run teams out of the building, they have dangerous (if not dominant) perimeter scorers, James Michael McAdoo is a workhorse, and they lack interior size.
It'll be interesting to see how Mark Turgeon tries to go at them; Carolina obviously wants to get out and run as much as humanly possible, and that's exactly what they did in the first meeting. Maryland struggled to counter it, and the Terps found themselves chasing the game from the word Go. That was distinctly out of character for Maryland at the time - just before they had topped N.C. State in a 65-possession grinder, which I thought was the Terps' M.O. As the season went on, Maryland got faster and faster, probably as a result of learning that they didn't execute well offensively in the halfcourt. They outran Duke when they pulled off that upset back in February, but running with a tired Duke is one thing; running with a fresh UNC is a much tougher proposition.
One thing's clear: no one on UNC's roster should be able to check Alex Len, should Good Olexiy show up to play. Of course, that's true of 98% of teams at this level, and yet Len still lays an egg 75% of the time. Every once in awhile there's a bit of overlap, though, and it almost always comes against big-name teams in big-name environments. (See: Kentucky in Barclays, Duke at home, both of which oddly enough did have someone to check him.) If the Terps can consistently pound inside to Padgett, Shaquille Cleare, and most of all Len, they might have an offensive plan efficient enough to keep them from needing to run.
That efficiency will be difficult to attain, though, because while UNC lacks size, they don't lack athleticism or intensity on the defensive end. They play the aggressive man-to-man look you expect out of UNC, and it's really good at forcing turnovers: they're #1 in the ACC in defensive TO%, which should scare you given Maryland's absurd turnover problems. There's a very real chance of a turnover every third possession. Pe`Shon Howard is likely to start at point guard, and he's going to have one heck of a task ahead of him.
Offensively, UNC scores as much as ever, but they don't really scare you with their individual parts. Don't get me wrong, there's talent upon talent upon talent here: Reggie Bullock ripped Maryland to shreds last time, you'll remember, and McAdoo is a talented scorer himself, as are P.J. Hairston and Dexter Strickland. Marcus Paige is a solid young point guard, not quite Kendall Marshall but in that same vein and certainly a talented playmaker. But none is the type of dominant figure we're used to seeing out of Carolina, not even McAdoo.
Instead, their scoring comes from their dominance on the fast break and their ability to execute with a variety of options in the halfcourt. They don't get to the line too much - a surprise, given their athletic advantage - and they're not particularly efficient inside the arc in the halfcourt, though they do have some serious snipers from outside.For the most part, though, they're built around the break, which is why Maryland's general instability on offense is a danger.
Expected Starting Lineups
|Pe`Shon Howard (Jr., 6-3)||Marcus Paige (Fr., 6-0)|
|Logan Aronhalt (Sr., 6-3)||Dexter Strickland (Sr., 6-3)|
|Dez Wells (So., 6-5)||P.J. Hairston (So., 6-5)|
|James Padgett (Sr., 6-8)||Reggie Bullock (Jr., 6-7)|
|Alex Len (So., 7-1)||James Michael McAdoo (So., 6-9)|
It's Senior Night, which means Aronhalt and Padgett get the nod in the starting five. Padgett would probably start anyway, and Aronhalt might not be a bad thing to get some level-headedness and shooting on the floor at the tip. Expect Nick Faust and Jake Layman to get a lot of minutes, though; Padgett has no one on the floor to guard, as Bullock will run him ragged on the perimeter and he's not dominant enough to take him inside and get a guaranteed bucket. Maryland will use size, but probably sparingly.
This is the type of game where, a few weeks ago, I'd have said Maryland would win. And there's a very substantial part of me that thinks they will. But I've bought into the hype enough times - through no fault of Maryland, you understand - that I've become a bit jaded. I just can't see the turnover problem solving itself against the team that forces more turnovers than anyone else in the conference and does relatively little poorly to compensate for that. Unless Good Olexiy shows up and Logan Aronhalt has a Senior Night Miracle, UNC is just a bad matchup. Heels by 4, 76-72.
(Now, as per usual, Maryland will do the exact opposite and go on to win by 7.)