Maryland will represent UNC's next shot at getting closer to its postseason goals, when the Terps visit the Smith Center Sunday at 3:30 p.m.
There is a widespread belief the Tar Heels should win this one if for no more reason than they have to. Despite being ranked high in the Top 25 all year, UNC cannot afford many more slips down the stretch of the regular season if it hopes to make something special out of UNC coach Roy Williams' first year back with a Chapel Hill address.
"I could not tell you where we're ranked," Williams said. "I've never filled out a bracket in my entire life."
The Tar Heels (14-7, 4-6 ACC) are coming off 88-77 loss Tuesday night at Georgia Tech, while the Terrapins (13-7, 4-5 ACC) defeated Florida State 73-62 last Sunday in College Park.
"Duke has separated itself and N.C. State has done a great job, and there are a lot of teams in the mix for the [rest of] the NCAA picks," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "Our conference proved itself in December."
One thing that is becoming more and more apparent is Rashad McCants' surge into the realm of ACC Player of the Year status. While maligned out of proportion by many as pertaining to a perceived "attitude," under Roy Williams, McCants has seemed more than comfortable producing 11-straight double-figure scoring performances.
In six of his last eight games, he has scored 26 points or more.
"He's really a big-time shooter," Williams said. "He's got it in his mind that he wants to take that big-time shot."
At the beginning of the year, Raymond Felton and Sean May, who lead the league in assists and rebounding, respectively; would have seemed more likely for first team All-ACC consideration. But if McCants' continues on his current scoring pace, regardless of where the Tar Heels wind up in the standings, he could be atop the ballots on voting day.
McCants, who scored a career-high 31 points against the Yellow Jackets, tied Joseph Forte as the fastest Tar Heel to 1,000 points since Charlie Scott. McCants cleared the plateau in his 56th career game. Scott did it in 52 games between 1968 and 1969.
"He's starting to learn what we're looking for," Williams said. "I would like him to drive to the basket more. I would like him to rebound more on the offensive boards. What I've tried to do every day is talk about the quality of the shot.
"He's working at it. He's the most scrutinized player I've ever coached."
Four Terps are among the conference's top nine shot blockers. With 7.5 rejections per game, Maryland ranks first in the ACC and second nationally.
"It always amazes me, because I don't think of us as being that big or as athletic as some of the teams we play in the conference," Gary Williams said. "We don't do some things as well defensively as I would like, but in terms of blocking shots, that's nice. We're getting some from behind, in that we're dropping down and somebody is getting a piece of the ball. It's not like we have a big shot blocker in the middle."
Gary and Roy Williams have faced each other three times, with Gary Williams' Terps winning all three meetings (1997, 2002 and 2004). But the Maryland skipper is 17-19 overall against the Tar Heels, which includes a 7-13 mark in the Smith Center.