By Spencer Pyke
Miami and North Carolina have already met twice this season, but something tells me the third time around will be drastically different.
After dispatching the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill early on in ACC play, the Canes routed the Heels the second time out down in Coral Cables. Although Miami’s two wins came by an average of 17.5 points, North Carolina has since switched to a smaller, quicker lineup and it has paid off with eight victories in their last 10 games.
The Tar Heels made quick work of Florida State in the quarterfinals, but found themselves in a grudge match with Maryland Saturday afternoon with the Terps playing for their NCAA Tournament lives. Reggie Bullock and Dexter Strickland combined to go 13 for 22 with 15 points while James Michael McAdoo and PJ Hairston, whose left hand was heavily taped after a deep cut against Florida State, each finished with 13. North Carolina took great care of the ball Saturday, only turning over the rock seven times, and will need the same care in Sunday’s Championship if they want to knock off top seeded Miami.
After struggling with Boston College early on, the Canes came out strong against North Carolina State and never looked back en route to an 81 – 71 win. ACC Defensive Player of the Year, Durand Scott, killed the game offensively, finishing with a career high 32 points before fouling out with two minutes to play. Shane Larkin, ACC Player of the Year runner-up, had a great afternoon finishing with 23 points, seven boards, four assists and three steals. Big man Julian Gamble went a perfect 4 - 4 from the field to registering ten points, but the other Miami big men, Kenny Kadji and Reggie Johnson, were non-existent, shooting 3 – 13.
The way the first two games went, North Carolina would love nothing more than to rain on Miami’s parade in their first trip to the ACC Championship in school history. Having reached the Championship for the third straight season, North Carolina could be the first program since Maryland in the early 70s to lose three straight title games, and that’s something nobody in baby blue wants to be a part of.
Image: Shane Larkin will be sharkin' tomorrow afternoon as the 'Canes cut the net for the second time this season and claim their first ACC Championship. - Photo from USA Today Sports via Bleacher Report
Since switching to a smaller line up, the Heels have played their best ball of the season as of late. Perhaps even more interesting, Miami pinned their struggles against Boston College on problems with their “smaller and quicker” lineup. While that, along with the game being in North Carolina, could bode well for the Heels, I like Miami’s veteran and talent laded roster to cut down the nets for the second straight weekend. Look for Larkin, Kadji and Scott to go off as Miami wins a nail biter: Miami 81 – North Carolina 77.