Originally posted on Fox Sports Carolinas  |  Last updated 3/17/13
GREENSBORO, NC -- James Michael McAdoo didn't take too kindly to the description of Sunday's task for North Carolina as "monumental." The third-seeded Tar Heels will battle top-seed Miami in the championship game of the 60th ACC Tournament, and the challenge facing UNC is at least significant, if not enormous. After all, Miami won the teams' meeting in Chapel Hill by nine points and by 26 last month in Coral Gables. The Hurricanes have owned the Tar Heels. "They're another basketball team," McAdoo said. "We just have to come out and compete." Few teams have ever beaten North Carolina three times in one season, which Miami must accomplish in order to win the official ACC championship here at the Greensboro Coliseum. Ironically, UNC's two victories in advancing this far were third victories this season over Florida State and Maryland in Saturday's 79-76 thriller. UNC senior guard Dexter Strickland was a bit more understanding about the degree of difficulty in beating the Hurricanes. But he said there won't be any uneasiness jarred up over the last memory. Instead, Strickland sees Sunday's game as a matter of winning an ACC championship with a little extra fuel courtesy of going losing both times to the Hurricanes. "Absolutely," he said. "We can't let a team beat us three times. We're too good for that." North Carolina is 8-2 since it last played Miami. In fact, that game was what finally forced UNC coach Roy Williams into making a change from a more conventional and typical UNC lineup to a much smaller one that essentially features four guards and a very active forward (McAdoo) who continues adding to his game. Carolina's only two losses during the stretch were to Duke, which also defeated Miami during the same period. The best of the eight teams UNC defeated was N.C. State, which lost to Miami here in the semifinals. UNC has collected some nice wins, but the elephant in the room all season for this group hasn't been how it performs against quality teams and less, it's the ugly losses against the best teams. One reason for the struggles, half of which came early in the season, was because Carolina seriously revamped its lineup after four Tar Heels were selected in the first round of last summer's NBA draft. Three still had eligibility remaining. In losses to Butler, Indiana, at Texas, at N.C. State, at Miami and just last week at home to Duke, the Tar Heels trailed by at least 20 points at some point in those contests. UNC is 1-6 versus the RPI Top-25, and the Hurricanes were No. 4 entering Saturday's action. This isn't exactly a speed bump the Heels need to scale. "They kicked us pretty hard down at their place," Williams said. "So hopefully we will get some fresh legs underneath us between now and whatever time we're supposed to play (Sunday)." Fresh legs or not, Miami still has a decided edge inside and in length. If that's not enough, the Hurricanes are playing as well in the backcourt as any club in the nation. Durand Scott and Shane Larkin combined for 55 points Saturday. In the first meeting versus UNC, the Canes got 11 points each from Larkin and Scott, 14 from center Julian Gamble and 18 from 6-foot-10 forward Kenny Kadji. In the blowout down south, Larkin and Scot totaled 18 and 17 points, respectively, while Kadji added 17. Miami outrebounded the Heels by eight that day, too. But the Tar Heels that take the floor Sunday are a different group, and that fuels their confidence. In Saturday's win over Maryland, freshman point guard Marcus Paige, who failed to score in the first half and has more often than not struggled in big games, converted perhaps the most important bucket of the game for UNC. A moment after draining a mid-range jumper, Paige drove to the right side of the basket where the lefthander got off a runner over the outstretched arms of 7-foot-1 Terrapins' center Alex Len. The ball fell through the cylinder to give Carolina a 77-72 lead with 36 seconds left. "That was big, that was big, probably the biggest shot of the game," Strickland said. "For him, a freshman, stepping up and having that confidence is big for us." Paige is more experienced, confident and better. McAdoo's game has a range now that didn't exist six weeks ago. P.J. Hairston matter big time now, and UNC's total disposition has dramatically shifted from where it was when it visited Miami. Based on the first two meetings, Miami truly is a monumental task for the Tar Heels. But these Heels are different, and that's why they have a chance.
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