...but the result isn't going to be like last year.
After a bad start, UNC has won its last five games in ACC play. Tonight, however, they face a team that doesn't care about the Heels winning streak, or how good they are, they just care that last year, with Carolina being top ranked they upset them in Chapel Hill. Yes, tonight third/fourth ranked North Carolina (19-2, 5-2 in the ACC) hosts Maryland (14-7, 3-4 in the ACC) at the Dean Dome (tip off: 00 p.m. EST), and if you think that both teams will have last year's game in the back of their minds, well, then you should just read around the net some.
Maryland junior guard Greivis Vasquez said the following of this game: "We can win games. We can do some damage down in North Carolina, but we have to play for 40 minutes." Add to that comment this one: "I've been here for three years, and we haven't lost to North Carolina yet," by junior forward Landon Milbourne, and you have to admit that if the Terps hadn't knocked off UNC last year when they were number one those words might not be coming out of the young men's mouths. Honestly, while Maryland's record isn't great, Gary Williams' club has had a couple of stunners, beating Michigan State 80-62 was one (on the positive side) and losing to Morgan State 66-65 at home was another (on the negative side). You have to wonder which team will show up at the Dean Dome before thinking what kind of game the Heels will encounter.
Having said that, if North Carolina plays the way they know how nothing else will matter, as the Heels are a much more talented squad than the Terps. The two Terps that led the charge against UNC last year are no longer on the roster, and while Maryland could be a problem for Carolina if the game is close at the end, as it has one of the best free throw shooting teams in the country, in all the other categories they rank amongst the worst in the ACC. With a lineup of 6'7" in the middle I have to believe that the reigning National Player of the Year should have another big game, and hopefully that rubs off on his partner down low, Deon Thompson.
The fact that Gary Williams just plays a seven man rotation for the most part should play in UNC's favor as well, as Ty Lawson's speed can easily wear out the opposition with his sparks from end to end. Now, I am not saying this is a game that the Heels can mail it in and still win, but I am expecting to see a good lead by half time and probably the game in the bag way before the final buzzer. The Vegas oddsmakers have the Tar Heels as a 211/2 point favorite and that's probably going to be just about right, as head coach Roy Williams will put in the blue team at the end of the game. But before that group goes in I'm looking forward to seeing certain things from this team:
- Ty Lawson leading the squad. The point guard makes this squad go, when he is on the Heels are like a fine tuned machine, when he isn't UNC suffers from it. He needs to play for the team and not make it personal.
- Thompson getting back to his early season look. Against a much smaller team Thompson should be able to have a great game. A great game will give him the confidence needed for him to be back into the right frame of mind. Add the fact that Ed Davis loves to swat shots away and with a small line up like Maryland had he should have a field day in this one.
- Frasor needs to go in for a layup or get a cheap basket, anything. Ellington's slump finished when he drove to the basket and got his own shot and then put it back in for two. I think the same could be good for Frasor and his slump. It's worth a try.
- Danny is doing it all, and more. Senior leadership? We've got that now. Hansbrough in the middle, working as hard as all should and Danny on the perimeter trying to do all he can (and more) in order to keep this team going when no one else was able to do so. If Danny keeps going like this the Heels are in good shape.
It should be a good game, that will bring Carolina to 20 wins and one step closer to the matchup that all of these players live for, UNC vs Duke. Remember to check back an hour before the game to see The Last Thoughts.