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ACC tournament: Terps seek bid in semis

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Maryland could help its NCAA tournament resume with a win over North Carolina on Saturday. (Source: Maryland Athletics) Maryland could help its NCAA tournament resume with a win over North Carolina on Saturday. (Source: Maryland Athletics)

(RNN) - By Friday afternoon, it appeared the ACC only would have four teams heading to the 2013 NCAA tournament. By Friday night, it looked like a fifth may be back in play.

Two losses in Virginia's final three regular-season contests had earned it a spot "on the bubble" - among the last teams with a shot to get an at-large bid to the Big Dance. Without an automatic bid from winning the conference tournament, the team would need to rely on its overall performance to impress the NCAA selection committee.

A loss, and an unimpressive one at that, to NC State in the ACC quarterfinals probably has the Cavaliers on the outside looking in.

As the conference tournament began, Maryland had even less of an argument to make to the committee, going 8-10 in the ACC. They had beaten Duke and NC State at home but struggled on the road against teams near the bottom of the league standings.

But in the Terrapins' two games in Greensboro, NC, they have been a different, better team. A second win against the No. 2-ranked Duke Blue Devils on Friday could be enough to get them one of the final spots in the field of 68.

Another win wouldn't hurt their chances though. With two more, they wouldn't need to worry about appealing to anyone.

NC State Wolfpack (5) vs. Miami Hurricanes (1), 1 p.m. ET Saturday

The Feb. 2 Miami-NC State matchup featured lots of offense, plenty of intensity and a buzzer-beating tip-in by Hurricanes center Reggie Johnson to win 79-78 in Raleigh, NC. While the Wolfpack had homecourt advantage then, they were missing point guard Lorenzo Brown.

On Friday, Brown and the Pack looked like the dominant team many thought they would be at the beginning of the season, and they dispatched Virginia, 75-56. C.J. Leslie finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds, and he showed a determination that has been missing at times.

The team lacks depth, but its top line is experienced, big, quick and has scoring threats at every position. T.J. Warren is a talented freshman who plays with the maturity of an upperclassman; he can put points up several ways and do it efficiently (18 points, 9 of 11 vs. Virginia).

Injury note: Richard Howell got kneed in the leg in the second half Friday and left play briefly, but he returned and finished the game. NC State will need its All-ACC first teamer playing on two good legs, although he still managed to out-rebound everyone else as he limped around the court.

Miami coach Jim Larranaga knows about exceeding expectations. In 2006, he led Colonial Athletic Association squad George Mason on its Cinderella run to the Final Four.

Two years into his tenure at Miami, Larranaga once again helms the country's biggest surprise. Miami went from an afterthought to the ACC regular-season champ and would complete a conference sweep with two more victories.

The 'Canes got a tough test from Boston College on Friday but went on a 14-3 run in the final 3:26 to take the game, 69-58. Shane Larkin finished with 20 points and four assists.

Sixth-year senior (medical redshirt) Julian Gamble embodies his team's fortunes, as he spent much of the career on the bench until Johnson got injured. Once he got real minutes on the floor, he became a premier interior defender; he'll be tasked with slowing down both Leslie and Howell at different points in the game.

Maryland Terrapins (7) vs. North Carolina Tar Heels (3), 3 p.m. Saturday

UNC has made a habit of quick-scoring runs to knock its opposition completely out of the game. They did it again Friday against Florida State early in the second half on the way to an 83-62 victory.

Coach Roy Williams made a switch to a smaller lineup late in the season to get his five best players on the floor, and his team adapted well. The Heels remain one of the best passing teams in the nation (17.4 assists per game) and use a breakneck pace of play to wear down the other squad.

Reggie Bullock has become a superb rebounder since the lineup change while still stretching the defense with his long-range shooting.

Injury notes: James Michael McAdoo played effectively in limited minutes (12 points, three rebounds). He has been dealing with a bulging disc but has not missed any games because of it. P.J. Hairston left the game Friday after getting a cut between his fingers that required stitches. He is questionable for Saturday's game.

Much of the talk surrounding the Terps all season centered on 7'1" Alex Len needing to be more involved on offense. The enigmatic sophomore looked dominant at times but would disappear for stretches as well.

However, it has been guard Dez Wells who emerged as the team's top option. Wells scored 30 points, including 10 of 10 free throws, against Duke in the 83-74 win Friday, one night after putting 21 on the scoreboard against Wake Forest.

Wells becoming the centerpiece of the attack, with Len in a secondary scoring role, looks more natural for Maryland. That allows the big man to better utilize his energy as a defender and rebounder.

Maryland's long identity search this season could come from so many guys getting playing time. The roster has 10 averaging 10 or more minutes and no one averaging 30.

That depth can be an edge for them in this tournament and the next, if they make it. With games on consecutive days, coach Mark Turgeon has fresh bodies on the floor while other teams test the stamina of a smaller rotation.

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