With the year in the last week of the regular season tonight’s game is Senior Night for No. 6 AP & ESPN/USA Today North Carolina (25-4 ~ 12-2 in the ACC) as they host Maryland (16-12 ~ 6-8 in the ACC) at the Dean Dome. The game will be televised by ESPN/ESPN3, tip off time being 7:00 p.m. EST, with John Saunders and Jay Bilas commentating. For head coach Roy Williams’ squad, who beat the Terrapins once already this season 83 to 74, its a game where it needs to focus on this pesky squad and not look ahead to the re match against arch-rival Duke. The first match up was closer than the score indicated and it ended with the Terps having issue on the last second dunk my John Henson.
Speaking of the junior power forward he was once again the winner of the ACC Player of the Week, taking the award for a third time this season. While, speaking of the seniors, which coach Williams will start the walk ons, this means the last time that the fans at the Dean Dome will see Tyler Zeller and Justin Watts, who said in article that he does not regret for a minute picking UNC, in action in the friendly confines of the Dean E. Smith Center. While of all this will be an emotional game, as the Seniors celebrate this moment, it is pretty sure that the likes of Henson and Harrison Barnes might be stepping on to the court for the last time as well.
This game is also going to be different because the squad will be wearing the hyper platinum elite jerseys from Nike, or as I see them a shade of gray that has not much to do with the carolina blue that I been accustomed to for over three decades. But as the old saying goes, it is what it is, and that also goes for the game, where once again North Carolina will work on pushing the ball forward with their patented fast break, and if that is not there, they will then go inside to either Zeller or Henson, to begin the offensive set. Playing against a team that in their first encounter gave them a run for their money in this one I am sure that UNC wants to put them away before the end of the first half. Somehow, with the possibility of the big man tandem being at its last run on this court I see both of them having a great game, and hopefully, with the win assured, going off the court a bit early to a deserved standing ovation! For their back up, James McAdoo, I am hoping he can give his contribution, since next year this is going to be his court to claim, and he will have mighty big shoes to fill. When on the defensive side of the ball the trio needs to be aware of junior forward James Padgett, who is averaging 9.0 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, and has been pesky on the offensive glass, having pulled out almost 100 of them this season.
While the paint is always set for the Heels once again this squad didn’t have the best of games on the perimeter in their last outing. Point guard Kendall Marshall needs to once again have his A game on and feed the open team mates, while back court partner Reggie Bullock and sub P.J. Hairston need to find their range and make their shots counts. This is going to be crucial for the team going forward, be it in this game, in the one this weekend against Duke, or in the post season tournaments. And then, of course, there is Barnes, who, with the exception of the last outing versus Virginia, has been the “go to” guy for this team as it been gelling well after the loss to arch rival Duke. Once again this should be a game where the sophomore could do plenty of damage from the either the outside or driving the lane. On defense the back court needs to watch out for sophomore guard Terrell Stoglin, who leads the ACC in scoring with 21.2 ppg and ranks seventh nationally, and we all know what some guard can do against the Heels’ perimeter defense.
This game should not be as hard as the one that the Tar Heels played the first time against the Terrapins, as things have not gone well for them since the two met. Add to that the fact that Maryland has won one road game in the conference (1-7) this season and you could see how this game could easily be over before intermission. On the other hand this game has to be played and the team can ill afford to think forward to the Duke re match. But then again UNC is not just playing against Maryland tonight, or Duke on Saturday, they are playing against the doubters that have put them down as underachievers, the ones that have said they can not win the ACC or anything else this season. This team was put under the microscope long before they started playing the season and while they are 3 points away from being a 2 loss team they have been critizied way too often, and most of the time unfairly in my mind.
So before we all start believing that the most this squad can do is maybe win the ACC regular season, let’s remember that they lost by one point, on the road, to top ranked Kentucky, one of the two teams all are thinking could win it all. While the regular season is ending, the best part of the year is about to begin, ACC Tournament, Selection Sunday and then on to March Madness. Hang on fans, the ride is just beginning for this team full of future NBA players. But tonight is not about that, it’s about Tyler Zeller, Justin Watts, Stewart Cooper, Patrick Couch, and David Dupont walking on the Dean Dome floor for their last regular season game. Let’s make them remember how much we have appreciated their efforts, let’s send them off they proper way, with plenty of cheering and clapping!
As far as the Vegas insiders go Carolina is favorite by anywhere from 18 to 20 points. I have to say that with the way Maryland has played of late and on the road that could happen, but being Senior Night coach Williams might try to put them in at the end and the score will indicate that as well, so I say that 12-15 points margin is where I see the spread at, with the Tar Heels winning by the final of 87 to 72. ESPN’s AccuScore gives the edge to UNC as well, their score being of 84.9 to 68.3, while the SCACCHoops simulator gives the edge to the Heels as well, with the final score of 85 to 65.