North Carolina, which is on a five-game winning streak, wants to wrap up a top-four seed in the upcoming ACC tournament. Maryland, 2-2 since upsetting then-No. 2 Duke last month, wants to re-ignite its NCAA tournament hopes.
It should make for an even more emotional Senior Night in College Park, Md., on Wednesday.
“We try not to think about where we are just because people think we're on the bubble,’’ Terrapins coach Mark Turgeon said earlier this week. “We might not be. You don't know what the committee's thinking, where they have us.
“We're fired up to play North Carolina because it's North Carolina. They're one of the hottest teams in the country.”
Indeed, the Tar Heels -- who finished just out of the Associated Press rankings this week -- have been on a roll since going to a four-guard starting lineup last month. Currently in third place in the ACC standings, they not only want to wrap up a first-day bye in next week’s league tournament, they want to keep building momentum.
“You want to keep winning, and you want to have your team more confident,’’ UNC coach Roy Williams said. “And they gain confidence from winning.”
UNC (21-8), at 11-5 in the ACC, currently stands in third place, behind first-place Miami (14-2) and second-place Duke (13-4). NC State and Virginia are tied for fourth, at 10-6, and also play Wednesday night.
On paper, the Tar Heels appear to face the toughest final week of the lower trio, with the game at Maryland on Wednesday and a Saturday finale versus third-ranked Duke. NC State, meanwhile, faces Wake Forest and a game at Florida State; while Virginia also travels to Florida State and hosts Maryland.
No team has ever won four games in four days at the ACC tournament, so the ability to skip the opening Thursday is key.
“I think you’re at a greater advantage, if you want to win the tournament, and that’s what we want to do is to win it,’’ Williams said. “It’s easier to win it if you only have to win three games as opposed to four. We’d like to do that.”
Maryland (20-9), meanwhile, is 8-8 in the league and may need to win the conference tournament if it wants to play in the NCAAs. It’s been an odd turnaround since Feb. 16, when the Terps’ home win over the Blue Devils seemed to secure their NCAA hopes. But since then, they have lost road games at Boston College and Georgia Tech, two teams in the bottom half of the league standings.
If Maryland still is on the bubble, it is in danger of slipping completely off.
“We put ourselves behind the eight ball, lost a few games we shouldn't have lost maybe on paper,’’ Turgeon said. "We did, so we are where we are. We got 20 wins with this young team; [we are] headed in the right direction. Proud of this group.
“[We] haven't been as consistent as we'd like, but hopefully we can get some wins down the stretch.”
A few things to watch during Wednesday’s 7 p.m. tipoff:
The UNC junior has been on a roll of late, averaging 18 points, 10.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists over UNC’s last three victories. And the Terps well know the wing’s scoring ability; Bullock scored a season-high 24 points when UNC beat Maryland in January. He needs to stay aggressive.
With the Tar Heels going small, now would be a good time for Len, the Terps' 7-foot-1 center, to come up big. He had 10 points the last time these two teams played, and is averaging 12 for the season. But he has only posted double-digit points twice in the Terps’ past six games. He needs to stay focused.
The Terps are 16-2 at home this season, including 6-2 in ACC play; the Tar Heels are 4-4 on the road in conference play this season. … UNC ranks ninth in ACC games in free throw shooting, connecting on 66.1 percent; Maryland is last in the league at 62.4 percent. … Turgeon said he expects an entirely different game than the last time these two teams played, “because they're in a smaller lineup now, it’s at our place, much further along. It will be interesting. But they are one of the hottest teams in the country -- I really believe that -- right now.”