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Maryland vs. North Carolina preview: Terps visit Tar Heels for top-10 showdown

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Buckle up.

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland and North Carolina reunite on the hardwood Tuesday night in Chapel Hill, and the circumstances are much different than ever before. The No. 2 Terrapins and No. 9 Tar Heels have met 141 times since 1949, but never like this - not with Maryland gone from the ACC and now in the Big Ten, and pretty rarely with both teams perched in the top 10 of national polls. The stakes will be big, and the scene will be raucous.

North Carolina has missed star point guard Marcus Paige, who's been rehabbing a broken hand, but Paige is expected to make his return against Maryland. If he's even close to full strength, that will make for a next-level point guard matchup between he and Maryland's Melo Trimble.

The game tips at 9:30 p.m. EST. Watch or stream it on ESPN.

North Carolina Tar Heels (5-1)

The coach

Roy Williams, in his 13th season at North Carolina. He's 755-203 in his career, 337-102 at Chapel Hill. (He coached with Mark Turgeon at Kansas.)

Players to know

Marcus Paige, junior, guard, 6'2, No. 5. Assuming Paige plays, he'll have to shake off a little rust in his first game of the season. When he's on, Paige is as rounded a point guard as you'll find anywhere. He averages 13 points, 4 assists and 3 rebounds over a three-year career, and he's developed into a much more efficient player over the past two seasons. He's a career 38 percent 3-point shooter and 87 percent foul shooter.

Kennedy Meeks, junior, forward, 6'10, No. 3. Meeks is a do-everything member of North Carolina's frontcourt. He's averaging 14 points and 7 rebounds so far, a stat line that reflects the varying roles he fills. He's an efficient scorer, making 61 percent of his shots, which almost always come from the post. He hits the glass hard on both ends of the floor, and he'll be by far the best player Diamond Stone has ever faced.

Justin Jackson, sophomore, forward, 6'8, No. 44. Jackson is great. His 14.7 points lead the Tar Heels thus far, and he's been pouring in 4 assists and 4 rebounds per night, too. He's one of the most athletic players on a team full of athletic players, and he's also very efficient, carrying in a 125.3 offensive rating. The best way for Maryland to neutralize him is to force him to take 3-pointers; Jackson makes 64 percent of his shots inside the arc but is just 6 of 23 (26 percent) from deep.

Theo Pinson, sophomore, forward, 6'6, No. 1. Pinson can do some ridiculous stuff. He's a shifty, speedy wing who can shoot (43 percent on threes) and slash toward the hoop. He's an intriguing matchup question for Mark Turgeon, because he's not Carolina's best guard or wing scorer, but he's only an inch bigger than Rasheed Sulaimon and has remarkable athleticism. Turgeon will have to decide if Pinson is worth having Sulaimon on his tail.

Brice Johnson, senior, forward, 6'10, No. 11. Johnson is averaging a smooth 13 points and 10 boards. He might well be the best player on this team. He's a post guy, like Meeks, but he's a lot less thick and a little more athletic. He seems like a natural fit to match against Maryland's Robert Carter Jr.

Strengths

Efficiency. The Tar Heels fill the hoop, and they mostly do it by getting close to the basket and taking good shots. Their opponent-adjusted offensive efficiency of 115 points per 100 possessions is in the top five nationally, and they score 61 percent of their points inside the 3-point line.

Length. Maryland is the third-tallest team in the country, with an average height of 6'7, according to Ken Pomeroy's tabulation. Carolina isn't far behind at 6'6, and the Heels use their height to their advantage, blocking a lot of opposing shots and almost never getting blocked themselves. They're also a strong rebounding group.

Weaknesses

Perimeter defense. This should improve with Paige's return, but North Carolina hasn't done much of a job guarding the arc. Teams have hit 37.8 percent of their 3-point tries against the Tar Heels, and a full 42 percent of opposing shots from the field (and total points scored) against them come via the long ball. There's probably an opening here for Jared Nickens, who had his best game of the year on Saturday.

Three-point shooting. Three-pointers aren't a lot kinder to North Carolina on offense. They only make 32 percent of their triples (against a 34 percent national average) and only take 28 percent of their shots from deep. When the Heels lost to Northern Iowa two weekends ago, they shot 28 percent on threes and gave up 39 percent the other way.

In general, Maryland wants this to be a perimeter-heavy game, which means picking up the pace a little bit and trying to keep the game out of half-court sets. The more Maryland works the ball around the outside to set up 3-point shots on offense, and the less Carolina can establish its own offensive post presence, the better for the Terps.

Predictions

KenPom's prediction: North Carolina, 78-71. Terps have 25 percent chance to win.

Alex's prediction: Maryland, 75-73.