Stakes are high as the Big Ten Challenge continues tonight with No. 9 UNC hosting No. 2 Maryland. An expected “epic” matchup which lost its edge after the injury of Marcus Paige, quickly regains its luster as Marcus returns to the hardwood and evens out the predictions. This is the 141st meeting between the two programs, however, this atmosphere is palpably elevated as Maryland has left the ACC to join the Big 10 and both teams are top ranked nationally.
The Return of Marcus Paige: The Tarheels have undergone the start of their season without the presence of senior guard Marcus Paige. Paige broke his right (non-shooting) hand on November 5 leaving him inactive on the court for the first couple of weeks. Questions arose as to whether or not he would be ready to return by their first critical matchup between the Terps on Dec. 1. Coach Williams announced on last Tuesday he would return to the hardwood. With the addition of Paige in the starting lineup, the Tarheels now have their most dominant and experienced offensive player returning to serve as the general on the floor. Paige finally enters the 2015-16 season having averaged 14.1 points and 4.5 assists last season.
Maryland’s Perfect Start: Although the No. 2 Terrapins are playing in the Dean Dome tonight, they have some prominent factors that are still going to make the game extremely interesting. The addition of solid transfers Rasheed Sulaimon (Duke) and Robert Carter (Georgia Tech) to play alongside Maryland star Melo Trimble makes this Maryland lineup as talented as any team in the country. The Terps also come into tonight’s matchup undefeated as opposed to Carolina’s surprising upset by Northern Iowa. However, the Tarheels will be the Terrapins first heavily contested matchup as Carolina is coming off quality wins over Kansas State and Northwestern.
Tarheels Frontcourt Impact: Carolina forwards Justin Jackson, Brice Johnson, and Kennedy Meeks have each played major roles in the early success of the Tarheels. Sophomore Justin Jackson enters tonight’s game scoring 14.7 points per game. Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks are also scoring in double figures as Johnson is averaging 13 points and 11 rebounds and Meeks is averaging 14.3 points per game. Most of the scoring for UNC is done inside the paint, and Carolina’s bigs are executing at high proficiency as each player is scoring over 50% from the field. It’ll be a fun matchup between them and Maryland’s bevy of bigs, especially the youngster Diamond Stone.
Prediction: UNC will defeat Maryland in a close, high scoring match up.