***Join us in the Turtle Power live chat beginning at 7:30 as Maryland takes on the Tar Heels at the Dean Dome***
With a final chance to make a loud statement for an at-large selection to the NCAA Tournament, the Maryland Terrapins (18-10, 7-6 ACC) are in Chapel Hill to take on No. 19 North Carolina (21-6, 11-2 ACC) tonight at 7:45.
The Tar Heels are bigger (with 7-footer Tyler Zeller and 6-foot-10 John Henson leading the frontcourt), love to play in transition much like the Terps, and will attempt to stifle Maryland with one of the best defenses in the nation. North Carolina has taken its play to a different level since freshman point guard Kendall Marshall (5.1 assists per game) took the reins of the Heels offense in place of Larry Drew II, who has since left the program.
Not to be outdone by Marshall, freshman Terrell Stoglin has exploded for the Terps in recent weeks and will need a big night at the Dean Dome for Maryland to pull off the upset. Stoglin (10.9 points per game) has emerged as the second-leading scorer on the team behind big man Jordan Wiliams (17.2).
This one could easily turn into a track meet given the teams’ respective profiles, but neither is strong from the perimeter, an area where the Terps have struggled defensively.
If you’re looking (hoping?) for a sleeper performance that could aid Maryland’s effort against the Heels, might this be the night Cliff Tucker snaps out of his late-season slump? The senior averaged 20 points per game in two games against North Carolina in 2009, including a 22-point performance to complement Greivis Vasquez’s triple-double in an overtime victory in College Park on Feb. 21, 2009.
Though the term “must-win game” gets tossed around far too much, this one absolutely fits the description after Virginia Tech knocked off No. 1 Duke on Saturday night, essentially locking up an at-large bid for the Hokies barring a major collapse. That leaves Clemson, Boston College, and Maryland currently battling for one potential — not guaranteed by any stretch — at-large bid as we enter the final week of the regular season.
A win in Chapel Hill puts the Terps in decent position to grab a tournament spot with wins over Miami and Virginia this week and at least a good showing (1-2 wins) in the ACC tournament. A loss to the Tar Heels likely means Maryland must win the conference tournament in Greensboro to punch a ticket to the Big Dance.
Tonight’s game will be televised on Comcast SportsNet with coverage beginning at 7:30 (tip-off scheduled for 7:45). As always, watch the action with us in the Turtle Power live chat and interact with WNST.net personalities about the happenings in Chapel Hill. Remember to follow us on Twitter (@WNST) for the quickest updates and analysis.