By all accounts, we should probably be watching Miami and Carolina play in tomorrow's ACC Tournament final. But in a year with so much parity that's now seeing the league's top teams play down to the level of their middling competition, it's fair to say that today's two games are probably each a toss-up.
Let's start with UNC taking on a Maryland team that has worked its way back into the bubble conversation and probably needs at least one more quality win in beating Carolina to push themselves into the tournament (and that's an iffy proposition even then). The Terps have proven that they can get motivated for a game against Duke but the problem has been sustaining any kind of momentum afterwards. The Terps dropped both games this year following the Duke matchup, once in a squeaker to Florida State and, more embarassingly, in an 11-point humiliation by Boston College following the big win over the Blue Devils in College Park. It'll be interesting to watch whether Maryland brings its A-game again today (or even it's B or C game, really) since a great deal of the damage done to them in both games against the Heels was self-inflicted. Maryland had 35 (!!) turnovers combined in both of their games against UNC and shot 4-35 from 3-point range; you can attribute some of that to good defense by Carolina but we all know the Heels aren't quite THAT good on D. The Terps also better hope the good Alex Len shows up, since he's been key in their big wins and was virtually nonexistent in both Carolina games (14 points combined). Maryland's defense can be exploited, and whether or not PJ Hairston plays, UNC still has 3-point threats that can get the job done, as evidenced by Reggie Bullock racking up 21 points in a half during the Heels' first matchup with Maryland. For me this matchup is more about what Maryland does or doesn't do than anything UNC brings to the table, and if you can't tell already by my tone, I'm not that confident about Maryland really coming to play despite them having every reason to. They just haven't proven to play with any semblance of consistency over the course of the season to justify me thinking otherwise.
Prediction: UNC 78, Maryland 68
On the other half of the bracket, I can envision just about anything happening as Miami takes on NC State. The Canes earned their top spot in the tournament fair and square but have looked pretty vulnerable of late, and I don't know if I've seen a single decent explanation as to why. In their only regular-season matchup, it took a last-second Reggie Johnson tip-in for Miami to win, and that was against a State team playing without Lorenzo Brown. State has plenty to play for trying to wipe some of the ugly memories of the regular season away and to be honest, their starting five has more talent to take down Miami than either team on the other side of the bracket. Combine that with Miami coming out pretty flat against BC and you're looking at a ripe opportunity for an upset. Still, I can't help thinking that BC played Miami close because the Canes got bored in that game, and they are awesome to watch when everyone is engaged and their offense is clicking. The biggest worry for State has to be Richard Howell, who was limping around quite noticeably at the end of the Virginia game. Sorry Wolfpack, I've just seen you disappoint too many times this year to think that things are suddenly going to come together for a magical postseason run.
Prediction: Miami 88, NC State 75