Originally posted on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 3/9/12

Since Carolina has last played four players made the All-ACC teams, senior center Tyler Zeller received the ACC Player of the Year award, his front court team mate John Henson took home the ACC Defensive Player of the Year hardware and former Tar Heel and national champion Wes Miller is now the head coach at UNCG. But now it’s back to on the court business as No. 1 North Carolina (27-4 ~ 14-2 in the ACC) takes on No. 8 Maryland (17-14 ~ 6-10 in the ACC) in the first game, tip off time at noon EST, of the second day of the ACC post season tournament. The game will be played at the Philips Arena in Atlanta, televised by ESPN2, with Dan Shulman and Fran Fraschilla announcing, the ACC Network and on the computer on ESPN3. For head coach Roy Williams’ squad the one thing they must do against the Terps, which they have beaten twice this season already, is come out strong from the get go. I say this as the Tar Heels seem to always start out slow when coming off lenghty layover, with a one and done tournament this can not happen for the Tar Heels.

As previously mentioned No. 4 AP & ESPN/USA Today North Carolina has defeated Maryland both times this season, first on the road by the final of 83 to 74 and then in Chapel Hill by the final tally of 88 to 64, bringing back the old debate on how hard it is to beat the same team three times. For UNC to prove the saying wrong they have to use their patented fast break which usually leads to easy baskets, and if not, they must go inside to their accolade getting duo of Zeller and Henson, to begin the offensive set. The starting tandem has been the “bread and butter” of this squad, while their sub, James McAdoo, has began to develop into a good player off the bench and is showing lots of hope for the future. On offense watch for the trio to go hard inside and make sure that they dominate the paint in both points and rebounds.

In the back court point guard Kendall Marshall, who is five assists from breaking the one season record for the category, is going to have to do what he has been doing all year long by hitting the open man for the easy shot. But, as he has been doing of late, either shooting from the outside or driving the lane could be what makes the sophomore floor general the most dangerous of all Heels players. His partner in the back court, Reggie Bullock, needs to hit from the outside and crash the boards for those extra second chance points. At 6’7″ the sophomore off guard is always going to be a tough match up when on offense, and has become a very good perimeter defender, something that UNC will have to be as Maryland’s Terrell Stoglin will be looking to build on his 25 points showing in round one of the tournament. And then, of course, there is Harrison Barnes, the player that many believed would be leading this team in his second year in Chapel Hill. While he has been the leading scorer his numbers have been overshadowed by the bigs and his play has been sometimes overlooked due to what Marshall has been doing at the point. This next month could be the time where Barnes shows the college basketball world what he can do.

Finally, the bench, especially in this tournament which is back to back to back games, is going to need to step it up. This means that the likes of McAdoo, P.J. Hairston, Justin Watts and Stilman White have to come into the game and keep the same intensity on defense and scoring on offense as when the starting five are in there. Especially when it comes to Marshall breathers will be key as the squad moves forward in this tournament and then in the big dance that will begin in less than a week.

The Vegas odds makers have North Carolina as a 15 to 15.5 points favorite, which is basically how I see this game as well, with the Tar Heels winning by the final of 78 to 62, thanks to another double double by Zeller and Henson. The simulators both have the Heels winning, with AccuScore saying 83.1 to 65.3 while over at SCACCHoops it gives a 75.3 to 63.0 final. In the end this is all about winning and moving on, however for Carolina it’s also about keeping the players fresh for next week and making sure no one gets hurt. This has still much to give and I am sure that we will see it in the next weeks of play.

This article first appeared on isportsweb.com and was syndicated with permission.

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