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Maryland-UNC Preview: Still UNC, But Not Usual UNC

Okay, so at this point you've heard about UNC. They're down this year. Really down. They lack guard play of any sort outside of inconsistent Larry Drew and young Dexter Strickland. Marcus Ginyard hasn't been quite as good as expected. Ed Davis and Deon Thompson are a great frontcourt pair, but they aren't as dominant as Tyler Hansbrough was.

That just about sums up UNC in a nutshell.

I'm sure you want more, obviously, so I'll provide a little more context. UNC is slumping bad. They've lost 6 of their last 8, including against College of Charleston. It's important to note that this recent stretch of poor play is probably an outlier for the Heels - I don't think they're really this bad, and haven't played it all year long. They did beat Ohio State and Michigan State, and they were just two away from beating Kentucky. They've been missing Tyler Zeller, too, who won't be playing in this game either. He provides size and some surprising athleticism. So it's not a guarantee that this UNC is really one of the worst teams in the ACC.

As UNC, too, they have a lot of talent - Strickland was a five-star, Davis was an All-American, and Thompson is one of the more consistent bigs in the league. Guys like the Wear twins and Jon Henson - all three top 50 players - are coming off the bench. They out-talent Maryland - and most ACC teams - across the board.

So what's the problem? Guard play and simple underachieving. Their TO% is in the 200s nationally, and they have an A/TO ratio below 1 - both are good for fourth worst in the ACC. They aren't FSU or Miami bad, but they're close. After having Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington, that's just unexpected for UNC.

As to the second point, they just haven't put anything together yet: they've shot poorly from the field, shot poorly from the stripe, and, by all accounts, haven't put in the requisite team effort. Their stats in the ACC have been significantly worse than their stats in OOC play, and a lot of fans are pointing to conference effort. It hasn't helped that Roy Williams is far from an Xs and Os genius.

How does Maryland match up? Well, teams that lack guard play generally struggle against Maryland, thanks in large part to Maryland's own experienced floor generals. Had this game been played two weeks ago, I'd be fretting over Davis and Thompson, but Jordan Williams has proven he can handle the best the ACC can throw at him, so now I'm only worrying about one of the aforementioned big men. Landon Milbourne will have his hands full trying to guard the other, but he's a wily, crafty defender, so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt for now.

The bigger problem comes on the boards. UNC is one of the better rebounding teams in the country, thanks to the presence of David and Thompson, but without Zeller they've been substantially worse. Still, that's one area they have an advantage over Maryland in. For whatever reason, maybe UNC's talented depth - the Wear twins and Jon Henson are the bigs off the bench for the Heels - I get the feeling that Maryland's short frontcourt could hurt on this one.

Other than that, though, UNC just isn't that good at basketball, or at least haven't been that good the last 8 games. The lack of guard play has derailed their season, and I don't see any reason for it to change against Maryland. They turn it over and don't shoot particularly well - I'd be surprised by a UNC win at this point.

Then again, UNC's talent is unmatchable. If they catch fire, they'll be tough to contain. That's why you can never, ever sleep on UNC. Few do, I know, but I'm just reinforcing the idea - come out with less than your best, and they can take advantage.

For now, I'll call a Maryland win and solidify the unfortunate blogger jinx. I'm sorry, but I just don't see UNC reviving themselves on a few days rest in the Comcastle. Terps win by nearly double-digits.

It's worth noting, by the way, that UNC plays a much higher tempo than FSU and even Clemson. They also force far fewer turnovers and are worse defensively. Win or lose, at least it won't be as ugly as the past two games.