After losing two of its last three games, North Carolina has a great opportunity to get back on track with a win over Maryland.
The Terrapins travel to Chapel Hill on Saturday for what is the Tar Heels' fourth conference game of the season.
Expectations weren't sky high in the Dean Dome, but it's safe to say that the 2012-13 season hasn't gone UNC's way.
North Carolina started the season No. 11 in the AP Poll and peaked at No. 9.
Then came the loss to the Butler Bulldogs at the Maui Invitational, in which the Tar Heels only managed 18 points in the first half. That was followed up shortly by a 24-point loss to the Indiana Hoosiers.
ACC play got off to a rocky start, as the Tar Heels lost their first two conference games before beating the Florida State Seminoles.
Now, UNC finds itself firmly on the outside looking in to the Top 25.
North Carolina couldn't be playing Maryland at a better time.
The Heels have broken their conference duck, so they won't have to worry about that. It might have only lasted two games, but when a school like North Carolina stumbles out of the gate like that, a lot of people notice.
In terms of the Tar Heels' opponents, the Terrapins are coming off a 51-50 upset of the NC State Wolfpack Wednesday night. Maryland might still be riding the high a bit when it travels to Chapel Hill and as a result, not be completely focused.
Looking at the schedule, picking up a win Saturday gives North Carolina the best possible momentum going into its matchup with NC State on January 26. If the Heels can win that game, the schedule levels out a bit until a date with the Miami Hurricanes on February 9.
Dexter Strickland is the only senior on the team who sees major minutes. When you have a team that relies so heavily on youth, you have to build that confidence up.
Beating the Terrapins would make that happen.
The Tar Heels aren't the most talented team in the country, but if they get on a roll, they could be a dangerous team. James Michael McAdoo, P.J. Hairston and Reggie Bullock have the skill to lead UNC to a very deep run in the tournament.
As a conference, the ACC is in a down year. You have the Duke Blue Devils at the top, with NC State just behind them.
Neither, though, will likely run away with this conference.
The Blue Devils, despite having only one loss, have looked vulnerable at times, and the Wolfpack are far from unbeatable, as evidenced by their upset to Maryland.
North Carolina has a chance to make a serious dent in the ACC the rest of the way. In order for that to happen, though, it needs to start with a win against Maryland.
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