You could make a really strong case that Maryland’s trip to North Carolina on Wednesday night represents the toughest game all season for the Terps.
It’s not just that the Tar Heels are sixth in the nation and winners of 11 of their last 12 games.
It’s how they win -- largely by rebounding. The Terps have struggled to keep teams off the boards.
North Carolina ranks first in the nation in rebounding. The Heels’ rebounding margin of plus-11.4 is more than twice as good as any other team in the ACC.
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon has said – with more than a trace of frustration -- that his team is flirting with being outrebounded for the season. Maryland’s rebounding margin is plus-1.8.
When you are outrebounded, you give up second and third shots. That means the opponent doesn’t need to shoot as high a percentage as you do to win. It’s also deflating – not to mention exhausting – for a defense to be asked to make multiple stops without a break.
Not surprisingly, Turgeon said Maryland’s preparation will focus largely on rebounding.
“That’s all were going to talk about is transition defense and rebounding. What I ask is every time a shot goes up, we at least hit a body. [The Tar Heels] are a pretty special rebounding team,” Turgeon said.
Of course, you can’t teach a player to be tall and athletic — as Tyler Zeller and John Henson both are. Both rank in the top three in the conference in rebounding along with Duke’s Mason Plumlee.
But you can talk about toughness, which is what Turgeon is doing.
On Tuesday, the coach called forward James Padgett “a nice guy.” He said of forward Ashton Pankey: “He’s like a rollercoaster out there.” Turgeon moved his hand up and down like rolling waves to illustrate Pankey’s season.
You could argue the point, but I'd say the toughest guys on the team are Sean Mosley and Terrell Stoglin -- and neither are "bigs."
After a loss to last-place Georgia Tech, Turgeon was more down than usual. You get the feeling that he hopes his team will come out mad at the Dean Dome.
“I didn’t handle Saturday very well,” Turgeon said.