The Virginia Cavaliers are looking to rebound tonight after suffering a home loss in their last game. The Cavs got handled at home just two nights ago by the Duke Blue Devils, losing by double-digits. It was just the second loss of the season for Virginia, both of which have come at the hands of the Blue Devils. They will try and get back on track tonight with a daunting task, a road trip to Chapel Hill to play the red-hot Tar Heels of North Carolina.
The Heels started out the season a bit slow but have won eleven out of their last twelve games and have rocketed into the top ten nationally. Carolina is tied atop the ACC standings at 9-1 with Duke, and the Cavaliers are just a game behind at 8-2. The Tar Heels are -1-point home favorites. The game total over-under is set at 140.5-points. Tipoff is scheduled for 3:00 PM PST from the Dean Done in Chapel Hill.
It is hard to tell just how good this Virginia Cavaliers team is right now. They have beaten all comers not named Duke and have an elite record at 20-2. Wins over Wisconsin, Maryland, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Florida State, and NC State tell me this team is clearly very good. But you do have to wonder if Tony Bennet’s team has what it takes to win the big games that matter.
I hate to bring it up again, but you have to remember that this team went 30-2 last year, was a one seed and lost in the first round on the NCAA tournament. They were the first team ever to lose as a one seed to a sixteen seed in the NCAA tournament. And this year they have had two huge games, both against Duke, and they lost both games. Can Tony Bennet win tough games like this one tonight at North Carolina? That has yet to be seen.
North Carolina started the year ranked in the top ten as they were loaded with talent. And not just the one and done freshman talent that other blue bloods like Kentucky and Duke had, they had upperclassmen that were experienced and knew how to win games. So, it was a bit surprising to see them struggle early in the year. Their early season losses to Texas, Michigan, and Kentucky didn’t look great at the time, but each of those losses are looking much better now as Michigan and Kentucky are in the top ten, and Texas looks like a tournament level team.
And since those early season struggles, the Tar Heels have been really good. Most expected Duke to run away with the ACC title this year, but North Carolina is hanging right there with them, and the two teams meet in the final game of the regular season in Chapel Hill, in a game that could decide the ACC regular season title.
The Heels are an elite scoring team as they are averaging the second most points per game in the nation right now at over eighty-eight points a game. That is especially impressive considering they play in such a talented league. They shoot the ball well, lead the nation in rebounding, and are third in assists. Kenpom has them as the seventh best offense in the land.
The Heels are led by a trio of talented players all averaging at least fifteen points a game in Luke Maye, Cam Johnson, and Coby White. Johnson and Maye are both senior leaders, and they are going to be crucial in March. But it is White that has been the surprise addition to this team. Most expected Nassir Little to be the breakout freshman superstar for this team, and he has been great, scoring double-digit points mostly off the bench for the Heels this year.
But White has been transcendent. The home state freshman guard is averaging sixteen points, three rebounds, and four assists a game. If the Tar Heels are able to get deep into the NCAA tournament yet again this year, it will be because they have four different players that can take over the game at any point. Duke is the only other team in the nation that can tout that type of depth.
So, who wins tonight? This line opened with the Cavs as road favorites, and the sharps, including myself, jumped all over it. This North Carolina team is really good at home, remember, they beat the number one ranked, at the time, Gonzaga Bulldogs at home earlier this season by thirteen points. They have just one home loss on the season, a fluky off night against Louisville in early January. With the heavy early action coming in on North Carolina, the line has moved toward the Heels, and they are now -1-point home favorites. Which feels like a much sharper number.
But I still think there is room for a play on the home team. This game should be very tightly contested and is going to be a strength on strength matchup with the Cavs elite defense matching up against the Carolina offense. But I just can’t bet against a team as talented as this North Carolina team is at home. If you like the Heels, make your play on them now as this line could keep moving, and you don’t want to be laying a bunch of points in what should be a great game. Give me the North Carolina Tar Heels laying -1-point tonight from the Dean Dome!