GAME NOTES: Two teams with NCAA Tournament hopes collide on Sunday, as the Virginia Cavaliers play host to the Maryland Terrapins in ACC action to close out the regular season.
Mark Turgeon's Terrapins have certainly played well this season and enter the regular-season finale with a solid 20-10 overall record. The team has struggled a bit in conference play (8-9), but a strong finish to the regular season and a run in the ACC Tournament, could push the Terps into the NCAA Tournament field. Of course, the team hasn't done itself any favors lately, with losses in two of the last three games, including a 79-68 setback at home to North Carolina last time out.
Tony Bennett's Cavaliers are sporting an identical 20-10 overall record, but Virginia is in better shape with a solid 10-7 league ledger. The Cavs have also hurt their own cause with two straight losses, following Thursday's 53-51 road loss at Florida State. However, Virginia closes out at home, where the team is an impressive 17-1 on the season, with big wins over Tennessee, North Carolina, NC State and Duke at the John Paul Jones Arena.
Maryland holds a 106-72 series advantage, but it is Virginia that has won the last four meetings. In addition, the Cavaliers are 43-35 all-time against the Terrapins at home.
The Terrapins just couldn't match North Carolina's offensive production in an 11-point loss to the Tar Heels at the Comcast Center this past week. Dez Wells did what he could to keep his team competitive, netting 18 points in the loss. Nick Faust came off the bench to add 16 points for Maryland, which shot just 42.9 percent from the floor in the game, weighed down by an ugly 3-of-23 effort from behind the arc.
Maryland is not an offensive juggernaut at a modest 71.0 ppg, but the team is efficient at the offensive end, converting a healthy 46.8 percent from the floor overall. Wells leads the charge in that regard, shooting 53.8 percent from the field and averaging a team-high 12.2 ppg. Center Alex Len is also converting baskets at a high rate (.536), averaging 11.9 ppg and a team-high 8.1 rpg. Faust has been in and out of the starting lineup and gives the team limited scoring punch at 8.7 ppg.
Under Bennett, the Cavaliers have been all about defense. That certainly hasn't changed in 2012-13, with the team ranking fourth nationally in scoring defense (54.4 ppg) and 30th in field-goal percentage defense (.390). That does not mean that Virginia is void of offensive talent. On the contrary, junior guard Joe Harris has been outstanding this season, ranking fourth in the ACC in scoring at 17.1 ppg. Akil Mitchell has provided balanced play with his low post game, converting 54.7 percent from the floor, while averaging 13.0 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. Mitchell has 10 double-doubles this season and ranks third in the ACC in rebounding.
One of Mitchell's double-doubles came last time out, but his 15 points and 12 rebounds weren't enough in the two-point loss to Florida State. Harris added 13 points to the cause, while Mike Tobey came off the bench to add 12 points in the heartbreaking defeat. Virginia didn't shoot the ball particularly well (.386), while the Seminoles were effective in that regard (.477).
The Terrapins have not traveled well this year, while the Cavaliers have dominated at home. That should tip the scales in Virginia's favor, as the season comes to a close.
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