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January 19, 2013Roy Williams and the North Carolina Tar Heels (11-5, 1-2) were able to breathe a sigh of relief last week, defeating a tough minded Florida State team 77-72 in Tallahassee.
Now, following a week off to recharge and heal up a little, UNC looks to keep that momentum up against the Maryland Terrapins (14-3, 2-2) on Saturday. Tipoff is scheduled for noon on ESPN.
Maryland will look to get back in the win column coming off a much needed last-second victory against N.C. State in College Park, which snapped a two-game ACC losing streak.
North Carolina was able to avoid its first 0-3 start in ACC play since 1997 and give the fans time to hold off from pushing the panic button with the FSU victory.
UNC got off to a 7-0 start at home this season before last week's setback to ACC frontrunner Miami, and now the Tar Heel faithful hopes to see a different outcome in the Dean Dome on this cold winter Saturday afternoon.
The Tar Heels lead the all-time series 118-57 against Maryland and have won 10 of the last 14 in the series (including four in a row).
The Terrapins are certainly one of the younger teams in the ACC, and possibly younger than the Tar Heels.
In his team's last game against N.C. State, a team that is made up largely of upperclassman, head coach Mark Turgeon started two freshman and three sophomores.
However, Turgeon counters by playing multiple players, as he has 10 guys that contribute significant minutes to the team.
Maryland plays with three guards and two forwards in its line-up, having more of a half-court offense, while getting out in transition if they are able to do so.
Freshman Seth Allen and sophomore Nick Faust lead the backcourt, as both will be handling the ball for the Terrapins.
Allen, who is averaging 8.2 points per game and leading the team in three point percentage (37.7), showing his explosiveness against State on Wednesday and getting to the rim multiple times throughout the game.
The frontcourt for Maryland might be its strong point both on the offensive and defensive end.
Alex Len, who is a 7-1 center out of Ukraine, has been the Terrapins most consistent player so far this year. Len is averaging 13.5 points per game, 8.1 rebounds, while shooting 54.7 percent from the field.
With Len, the Tar Heels will have to come up with a defensive scheme to stop the big man or limit his touches, as Maryland runs a lot of its offense through the him and Shaquille Cleare.
Whether it's getting to the ball in the low post for a one on one matchup or if it's fighting through multiple screens for the guards shooting along the perimeter, the Tar Heels will have to show up defensively and play a full 40 minute game of basketball on that end of the court.
Even though Maryland is averaging 73.4 points per game, the Terrapins have only been able to score 62, 47, and 51 points in their last three games, going 1-2 against Florida State, Miami, and N.C. State.
But Maryland prizes themselves on the defensive end and executing efficiently offensively.
The Terps held N.C. State to 31 percent shooting, as this was the team that led the nation in field goal percentage.
Coach Turgeon was able to get the Terrapins first win over a ranked opponent since 2010 when they defeated the Wolfpack the other night in the Comcast Center.
He has been trying to get this program back to where it was when Gary Williams was coaching, but it has been a struggle so far for him and his squad.
"I didn't come here to be mediocre," Turgeon said after the NCSU win. "I came here to do great things. We haven't done many great things since I've been here. This is a great thing."
Below are Maryland's overall statistics leading up to Saturday's match-up.
Points per game: 73.4
Field Goal Percentage: 47.4%
Rebounds per Game (Off./ Def.) : 43.2 (13.5/29.8)
RPI/ SOS/ vs. Top 25: #71/ #180/ 1-0
P.J. Hairston stepped up big time on the road against Florida State, scoring 23 points off the bench, and the Tar Heels will need that kind of play to continue throughout the league schedule if the Tar Heels want to be considered a contender.
While Hairston dazzled off the bench, three UNC starters in the game last week combined for 16 points, shooting a combined 5-14 from the field.
Granted, James Michael McAdoo and Reggie Bullock are the main targets on offense when it comes to the starters, as Desmond Hubert provides more on the defensive power than offense.
But the scoring for the Tar Heels simply must be more consistent, as UNC will not be able to depend on its top three scorers all the time.
Dexter Strickland has undoubtedly struggled so far in the ACC, shooting 3 for 11 from the field with eight points in three games.
Strickland's ability to attack the basket has been a little off, along with his shot in the past few games.
As anyone knows, when a player doesn't see the ball go through the net, sometimes it's hard to get out of that funk.
But Strickland doesn't seem to look at his numbers. He's focused more at how the Tar Heels are playing overall.
"I don't think Dexter's pleased with his stat line the last two games but he was just as happy as anybody on that team in the locker room. I mean, he wants to win," Coach Williams replied about Strickland.
Marcus Paige has quietly been filling his role in as point guard, as he has been able to fill up the stat sheet the past two games, while playing solid defense, especially against Michael Snaer who is one of the top guards in the ACC.
"I think it's a day by day thing that he is just learning more and more about the college game" replied Williams. "I want to see him get better in every area He just has to get a lot better in every part of it."
Leslie McDonald sadly is looking less likely to play against Maryland on Saturday, as Williams reported in his Friday press conference. "I'm more doubtful about Leslie than I was earlier in the week,'' Williams said.
McDonald tweaked his knee in practice earlier this week and hasn't been able to practice.
Williams understands the strengths of Maryland, especially when it comes to rebounding, as he mentioned that it will be a huge factor in the game in the way the Tar Heels want to play.
"They're a really good rebounding club It's got to be everybody rebounding (for us), it's going to be a big emphasis in the game."
Williams said that the game is so simple and he will try to make it simpler for his young team on Saturday.
"You get the ball, I get the ball. And the only way for me to get the ball more times and get more shots is to rebound and to stop you from getting a second shot opportunity."
In saying that, Williams will be looking for his frontcourt to step up against a solid opponent. Overall, solid play from all his players both on the offensive side and defensive side will be key.
"We are still searching for the great play in the post. A lot of people say I am still searching for the one guy. I don't care if it's one or all four of them, I just want us to play better in the post and be more aggressive, score more, shoot a high percentage, and keep the other team from shooting a higher percentage."
The Tar Heels know this will be tough match-up and will have to do everything they can on the defensive side to limit the Terrapins offensively.
Williams will look for the same intensity the Tar Heels had in the final minutes against Florida State.
Turgeon is 0-3 against his old boss at Kansas, but will be looking to turn the tide against yet another North Carolina school.
UNC will be looking to get back on the winning side at the Dean Dome, while also showing its home fans that they can be contenders in the ACC this winter.