Maryland-North Carolina Preview
It’s been 55 years since Maryland and North Carolina last faced one another in a non-conference setting. The second-ranked Terrapins and No. 9 Tar Heels square off Tuesday night at the Smith Center for the first time since Maryland’s shocking 2014 conference switch, one of several storylines existing in this showcase game of The Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
The 180th meeting between the schools will be the first with both ranked in the top 10 since the No. 5 Terps recorded an 89-76 win over the ninth-ranked Tar Heels in Chapel Hill on Jan. 13, 1999, part of a 61-year association in the ACC that Maryland severed with its decision to join the Big Ten following the 2013-14 academic year.
Maryland (6-0) ended its run with eight consecutive losses to the Tar Heels, though none of those teams appear as talented as the present one that’s added a pair of high-profile ACC transfers in former Duke guard Rasheed Sulaimon (11.2 points per game) and ex-Georgia Tech forward Robert Carter (13.0 ppg) to a core headlined by star sophomore guard Melo Trimble (14.8 ppg, 4.5 assists per game) and senior forward Jake Layman (11.7 ppg).
North Carolina (5-1) entered 2015-16 with even higher expectations as the preseason No.1 in the polls, but were upset 71-67 against a good Northern Iowa team earlier this season. The Tar Heels played all those games without standout guard Marcus Paige due to a fractured bone in his non-shooting hand. The experienced senior has since been cleared to make his season debut and coach Roy Williams announced Monday that Paige will start.
“I’m not putting really any pressure on myself,” he said. “It’s my first game back, I’m probably not going to be `peak Marcus,’ but I’d like to be. And if I am, it’s great. But I’m not expecting myself to be perfect tomorrow. … I’m just happy to be back playing.”
Justin Jackson (14.7 ppg) and Brice Johnson (13.0 ppg) make up a big chunk of North Carolina’s 81.3 PPG and are crucial in the overall success of the Heels this season.
This game will be the first non-conference meeting between the schools since the Dixie Classic tournament in Raleigh on Dec. 29, 1960. Maryland has lost five straight in Chapel Hill since upsetting then-No. 1 UNC 82-80 on Jan. 19, 2008.
I expect a close battle throughout but I like Melo Trimble to best Marcus Paige in his season debut at the Terps pick up a quality non-conference win.
Prediction: Maryland 86 UNC 79