I know I've already broken out the first look, but here's a few more thoughts on Maryland's upcoming opponent that I either didn't think about or didn't put in the other post.
First off: when I said N.C. had seen marked improvement the past few games, I meant it. They lost to a good Florida team by 1; they beat FSU; they were within 3 of Clemson; and they beat Duke handily. Here's what's so puzzling, though: when you look at the stats, they didn't markedly improve in and of themselves, but the results did.
That's one thing that makes it tough to isolate a weakness. Sometimes, it's offensive rebounding that gets the job done - they had 15 second chances against Clemson and 14 second chances against Florida State. Sometimes, though, that's just as bad as ever - against Duke, they had just 9 offensive boards, and just 8 against UVA. Against Duke, they had 18 assists, above their average, but against Clemson they had just half that total. And really, you can go down just about every category and find where they were outstanding and where they were awful during this great stretch.
That alludes to two things I mentioned earlier: the first is that this team is really balanced. Certain aspects of the game get hot, and they ride those. That leads into the second thing, which is that they're tough to gameplan against and actually attack, because what they'll actually be good at and what they'll actually be bad at seems to vary game to game.
Then again, I haven't watched game tape. We'll see how those that did watch it (ie, Gary) end up doing.
The next major point of contention is the let-down factor. Maryland's a turnaround game after an upset win in another's team gym, and that's a recipe for disaster. I'm yet to find a solid beat blog for the Pack, so I haven't seen Sid Lowe's words on it, but given his standard as the ACC's worst Xs and Os coach, I wouldn't count on NC State not falling victim to that, at least a little bit. It's a gravity game* for N.C. State, so to speak; hopefully, they'll fall right back to earth.
* I got that phrase from a rec league coach in my youth. I have no idea if it actually exists, but I like it.
I'm not one to use the Four Factors - to some extent, it's a lazy blogger's way out of writing a good preview - but I'll throw it in here, because it's somewhat intriguing in this instance and I've already written a good (well, detailed) preview, so I have nothing to prove:
Ignore the awful color combo (red on red?). Instead, look at just how close these are. Maryland holds ever so slight advantages in eFG%, TO% (lower = better), and offensive rebounding %. N.C. State leads in FT%. Just how close they are is a little shocking to me given how down most statistical rankings - which rely on stats like these - are on the Wuffies.
For those that don't know what the Four Factors are, they were four...uh, factors, designated by Dean Oliver, the basketball stat god, that would lead to victory when a team won them. It's not foolproof, but it's a good indicator of how good a team is at the things that win you games. And by this, it'll be close.
That's just one thing I have a lot of trouble seeing: a really tight game with both teams trading baskets and the like. Honestly, if N.C. State comes crashing down, they'll do it hard. If that's the case, Maryland waltzes. If they stay on that high horse, well, do think Maryland could beat Duke by double-digits at home? I think the Terps will stay within striking distance if that's the case, maybe make a late run, but I can't see a close win for Maryland in either instance. Just my own opinion on this one, more of a gut feeling than anything else.
In terms of a prediction? I'm going with my homer instinct Maryland 78, N.C. State 63. Wuffies crash hard. It's almost as likely, though, that N.C. State wins this game. This is a really tough one to call.
One last thing: we'll know by tipoff if this game will vault Maryland to a tie at #1 atop the ACC should they win. I have a feeling they will - UVA plays Wake at Wake, with the tipoff at 4.