Sunday, February 26, 2006

The fat, unhappy middle

With just a week left in the regular season there is a glut of teams in the middle of the ACC's standings. It is a rather mediocre collection that will likely produce nothing more than a bunch of NIT candidates. Florida State, Virginia, Miami and Maryland are all either at 0.500 on the conference or within one game of even. Virginia and FSU looked like they would separate themselves from the group to contend for the unlikely fifth bid from the ACC. They were both longshots anyway as neither has an impressive win either inside or outside the conference, unless you include Virginia's recent victory over BC, and their RPIs are still mired in the high 50's. Still, each had won three of their last four games going into this weekend and had some momentum going into games with bottom feeders Clemson and Virginia Tech. Both crashed and burned and likely ended any chance to get into the NCAA tournament. They each would need to win both their remaining games, which include @UNC for the Wahoos and Duke for Florida State, to have even the slightest chance.

Perhaps an explanation for the surprising seasons of NC State and North Carolina have as much to do with the dismal state of the ACC as with their playing better than their talent. For that matter there is only one ACC team that has a good chance to go deep into the NCAA tournament and that is likely number one seed Duke. It is a pitiful year for ACC basketball, which makes Maryland's struggles all the more depressing. The ACC is bad enough that even with a loss today if Maryland won its final two games, at home against Miami and at Virginia, they would probably get a bid. Those are hardly imposing games, even for a inconsistent bunch like the 2005 Terrapins.

North Carolina is riding the crest of a four game winning streak that includes three road victories. In their last game they embarrassed the Wolfpack in Raleigh, 95-71. They posted 24 assists and only 6 turnovers in the game while canning 10 3-point baskets. That sounds like a deadly combination for a Maryland squad that struggles to guard the 3-point line and lacks discipline with their half court defense. The young Tarheels have also done a much better job protecting the basketball in their recent winning streak with no more than 13 turnovers in any game. Carolina can get baskets in transition and is starting to be more efficient in the half court. Now the four teams they defeated probably had three of the worst defensive teams in the league at pressuring the ball away from the basket, something Maryland can do with modest effectiveness. It will be incumbent on DJ Strawberry, Sterling Ledbetter and Parrish Brown to force Bobby Fasor, Wes Miller and Quentin Thomas into mistakes. David Noel and Reyshawn Terry hurt Maryland in the first meeting, while Tyler Hansbrough was mostly contained. Terry and Noel were much more aggressive on the boards than Maryland's frontcourt and grabbed 21 rebounds combined. The Terps will have to prevent them from gaining a rebounding advantage like in the last meeting that to have a good chance today.

In this game Maryland's deficiency at the point guard position won't be as big a factor unless Ledbetter and Strawberry make self inflicted mistakes as none of Carolina's backcourt is adept at getting steals. They will be content to play position defense and make Maryland beat them with offensive execution. The Maryland players are going to have to match the intensity of a team playing in front of its home crowd, it will be obvious from the way they rebound and play defense if they are going to do that. With North Carolina moving up to the top 15 in the RPI and Arkansas moving into the top 50 with a win over Tennessee Maryland could have three wins over the top 50 in the RPI, which would put them in an excellent position for a bid.

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