NCAAM Pick December 19, 2020 – North Carolina Tar Heels at Kentucky Wildcats

The CBS Sports Classic made a last-minute switch of matchups, but the event will still run as scheduled today in Cleveland, Ohio. Originally the event was to feature a game between the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Ohio State Buckeyes in the early game and a nightcap between the Kentucky Wildcats and the UCLA Bruins. But after reviewing each leagues COVID-19 protocols, the powers that be at the NCAA have decided that the ACC and SEC have similar protocols, so they swapped the games earlier this week.

While the late change has to be frustrating for the teams involved, the new schedule actually makes for a more exciting set of games if you ask me. Not that I didn’t want to see the Heels and the Bucks play, and UCLA and Kentucky was a nice matchup as well, but a game between two of college basketball’s best programs is always something to get excited about.

North Carolina and Kentucky are first and second all-time in college basketball wins, and combined, these two head coaches, Roy Williams and John Calipari, have nearly 1600 total wins. For today’s free daily betting pick, we will breakdown all of the action from Cleveland as the Tar Heels and the Wildcats square off in a battle of blue bloods.

Today’s Game

  • North Carolina Tar Heels (4-2) at Kentucky Wildcats (1-4)
  • Rocket Mortgage FH, Cleveland
  • 11:00 AM PST
  • TV: CBS

The Kentucky Wildcats play host to the North Carolina Tar heels tonight in a game between two of the youngest, but also most talented, teams in the country. Kentucky is off to their worst start since 1984-85, as they have lost four out of their first five games. Kentucky is hoping to snap a 4-game losing streak tonight against the Tar Heels.

For North Carolina, the Tar Heels are 4-2, with a couple of tough early-season losses to Texas and Iowa, but Roy William’s team remains ranked in the AP Poll, coming in at 22nd in this week’s rankings. This will be the final non-conference game for North Carolina, and the Heels would love to pad their resume with a quality win over a flawed, yet very talented, Wildcats team.

Spread:

  • North Carolina Tar Heels (-3)
  • Kentucky Wildcats (+3)
Money line:

  • North Carolina Tar Heels (-155)
  • Kentucky Wildcats (+135)
Total Points:

  • Over 141 (-110)
  • Under 141 (-110)

North Carolina Tar Heels (4-2)

Last year was one of the toughest seasons that Hall of Fame head coach Roy Williams has ever had to suffer through in his long and storied career. Between injuries and inconsistent play, the Tar Heels finished an embarrassing 6-14 in ACC play. At one point early in the year, Williams proclaimed that this was the worst team he had ever coached.

This year, North Carolina is hoping to erase the memory of last season as they brought in an elite recruiting class to surround their senior leader Garrison Brooks. Brooks leads the team in scoring, but this is a very balanced and deep attack for North Carolina as four players average double-digits scoring. North Carolina has seen a whopping ten players that have played in every game, with eight players averaging at least 10-minutes per game.

Kentucky Wildcats (1-4)

Kentucky fans had high hopes this year of another run to the Final Four. As is seemingly always the case, coach Cal brought in the top recruiting class in the nation, and even with the Wildcats losing several players to the NBA draft from last year’s team, they still have the most talent in the SEC. But despite all of the athleticism and talent on the floor, the results just haven’t been there yet for Kentucky.

The Wildcats have lost four straight games, including bad losses to Georgia Tech and Notre Dame. The loss at home to Georgia Tech was shocking as the Yellow Jackets won’t sniff an NCAA tournament at-large bid this year.

Kentucky is struggling to score the basketball efficiently, and they are dreadfully bad beyond the arc, at just 24% as a team. Things aren’t getting any easier any time soon, as, after this game, the Wildcats head to Louisville for another tough non-conference affair before kicking off their SEC league play against South Carolina. This team is going to start winning games at some point, but looking ahead on the schedule, I am just not sure when the wins will come.

Who Do I Like?

On the surface, this number might be a little confusing. When you look at the Wildcats 1-4 record and the fact that North Carolina is ranked in the top-25, some may think that North Carolina should be bigger favorites. But the books never overreact to a small sample size of games, and they know that even though Kentucky isn’t playing very well right now, that they have enough talent to beat any team in the nation.

That being said, it is hard to see the Wildcats snapping out of this nasty funk against a good North Carolina team today. North Carolina scores the basketball efficiently, and they play aggressive defense. The Tar Heels losses have been a function of them not taking care of the ball, as they are averaging 16 turnovers a game.

As long as they can slow down the turnovers, I see them handling Kentucky in this one. The Wildcats are 224th in the nation in turnovers forced percentage, which tells me that even if North Carolina is a bit sloppy, that, the Wildcats won’t be able to force enough turnovers, to get enough easy buckets, to hang with North Carolina.

The Bet

This game will be tightly contested, and there might not be a game all season long where we see more NBA talent on the same floor. Neither team has played up to their potential yet, but by the time March rolls around, I would expect both of these Hall of Fame coaches to have these teams playing well, and a trip to the Final Four is still a possibility for both teams.

I just don’t think Kentucky is going to be able to score the basketball efficiently enough to win this game. They shoot just 43% as a team, and with a slow pace, they are 269th in the nation in points scored per game. When you look at how well the Tar Heels defend and rebound, they are 4th in the nation in rebounds per game, that tells me that the Wildcats just aren’t going to get as many shots as they need in this one to make up for their poor shooting percentage.

This game will be fun and exciting, but I see North Carolina pulling away late for the win and the cover. Give me the North Carolina Tar Heels, laying -3-points against Kentucky today, in what should be a bit of a sloppy game, where North Carolina’s rebounding and defense grinds down the Wildcats. I’ll call in a 74-62 final score from Cleveland!

The Bet: North Carolina Tar Heels -3

My Pick
North Carolina Tar Heels -3
Jason Gray / Author

Jason is a true Las Vegas insider as he has called the sports betting capital of the world his home for sixteen years. Jason started out his career in gaming by running the biggest poker tournaments in the world and managing some of the biggest sportsbooks on the strip. Jason has transitioned out of casino operations and has been covering sports betting for the sports geek for just over two years. His main focus is on baseball, college basketball, and the NFL