The North Carolina Tar Heels blew out the Florida State Seminoles and squeaked by the Maryland Terrapins 79-76, and those two wins have vaulted the Tar Heels into the 2013 ACC Tournament Championship against the Miami Hurricanes. The ‘Canes are the top dawgs in the ACC as reflected by their No. 1 seed, but the Heels are not far behind as evidenced by their No. 3 seed and the fact that they are in the championship game to being with. It’s been a crazy season for the Tar Heels, and winning the ACC crown would be quite a way to cap off a season that was once thought to be doomed.
UNC’s victory over Maryland was particularly sweet, because the Terps defeated UNC’s bitter rivals- and Maryland’s own rivals- the Duke Blue Devils quite handily to bounce the potential No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed out of the ACC tourney. The Tar Heels have a much tougher matchup ahead of them against Miami, who have a date with history.
The Final Four caliber Hurricanes have never won an ACC Championship in basketball in their school’s entire history, so there is a lot of pressure on this breakthrough Miami team to deliver on that. UNC presents a difficult challenge for UM in attaining this goal, but they aren’t going to simply succumb to the pressure. Miami has a squad laced with veterans like Julian Gamble, so they have plenty of experience and leadership to where the “pressure” equation is a non-factor.
What isn’t a non-factor is Miami’s talent, because they can beat you in so many different ways. Unlike the Tar Heels, Miami does not rely on their perimeter shooting and have the uncanny ability to beat you both outside and inside almost at will. Durand Scott and Shane Larkin make up a tough, talented backcourt duo that is one of the best in college basketball, and they have guys like Kenny Kadji, Gamble, and Reggie Johnson who can wear you down inside or stretch the floor a little bit.
That sort of versatility is what makes Miami extremely difficult to play against, and Jim Larranaga makes this Hurricanes team very well coached overall. There is a reason why they made the North Carolina State Wolfpack look like just another team yesterday instead of a darkhorse contender. Miami’s ranking at No. 9 is almost an injustice, and Scott and Larkin went on an absolute tear against N.C. State. They put up a combined 55 points by just slashing to the rim on every play, and the way Miami attacks the basket is just ridiculous. N.C. State outshot the Hurricanes, but the ‘Canes out-rebounded, out-defended, and out-drove the Wolfpack- Miami is not a complacent team by any means.
The key for UNC in this game is their shooting. If they can go off in this game, then UNC will win. If they can’t and can’t adjust to that with better ball movement or driving (the former is a much easier diagnoses than the latter), then the Tar Heels won’t be able to win. And when I say shoot well, I mean they need to be lights-out. Miami can mitigate an opposing team’s offensive efficiency and overall FG% with their ability to lockdown defend and grind out points.
Miami has so many weapons and so much veteran leadership that it is hard not to gush about this team. The matchup they will present for the Tar Heels on the inside is going to be an extremely tough one for UNC to match, and they can also shoot well enough to help keep a Heels scoring outburst in check. UNC cannot afford to have a high number of turnovers either, because- as we saw with N.C. State- that is a death-sentence against Scott, Larkin, and the Hurricanes. If you take care of the basketball like Duke did in their latest game against Miami and shoot the ball really well, then you can beat the ‘Canes.
To me, there is just too much the Tar Heels will have to do to beat the ‘Canes. This is going to be a close championship game, but there is no way I am betting against the ACC’s best team here. I have Miami locked into my Final Four because of that veteran leadership, but the important thing to note is that the Tar Heels know how big of a win this would be going into the tournament and boosting the morale of this team. That’s going to be a factor to help out UNC, but I don’t think that’s going to help them enough. Assuming UNC rises to the occasion shooting-wise but realistically falls short in defending Miami, I think this game ends up being an 85-82 contest that we will be talking about long after the season is finished.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.