Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. North Carolina Tar Heels Pick
Gonzaga Bulldogs (9-1 SU, 7-3 ATS) vs. North Carolina Tar Heels (7-2 SU, 4-3-2 ATS)
When: Saturday, December 15, 2018 – 7 PM ET
Where: Dean Smith Center, Chapel Hill, N.C.
By: Dan Jamison, College Basketball Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: GONZ +2/UNC -2 (MyBookie)
Total: O/U 174.5
Last Time Out: Gonzaga lost to Tennessee 76-73; North Carolina routed North Carolina-Wilmington 97-69.
Analyzing the Bulldogs:
Gonzaga finally succumbed to a challenge from a top-quality opponent when it fell to Tennessee on a neutral court. In doing so, they displayed the dangers of being a team that is reliant on hitting a high percentage of its shots: when they don’t drop at quite the same clip, they become much easier to defeat. Gonzaga shot 45 percent against the Volunteers, not terrible at all but not close to the 52 percent they have been shooting all season. They produced their lowest output of the season and finished with a loss.
Analyzing the Tar Heels:
How much has North Carolina improved since its outing against Michigan? The Heels took a 17-point loss to the Wolverines in Ann Arbor, and they’ve only played once since that game, a rout of UNCW. Obviously, that one game likely wasn’t enough to work out all of the kinks from a game where Roy Williams blistered both his team and himself for their respective performances. But it’s also possible that Williams was simply exaggerating in a big way when Michigan routed his team. The truth is, it’s impossible to figure out North Carolina right now, as the Tar Heels’ best wins are over UCLA and Stanford, neither of whom have any good wins of their own to speak of at this point.
Defense. Which of these teams can stop the other one? North Carolina and Gonzaga have both been dynamite on offense this year, which is why the over/under is as high as it is. Whether it’s by limiting the opponent to one shot, forcing them into bad decisions or something else, these two teams will have to figure out how to slow down the other team long enough for their own offense to provide the points that will be necessary to win this game.
Gonzaga Will Cover if:
The Bulldogs can get good shots. Gonzaga has the most efficient offense in the nation, and the Bulldogs have built that by taking good looks and making smart decisions with the basketball. Gonzaga doesn’t make many mistakes, and when it does, it tends to make up for them by hitting a big shot at the other end. Hitting shots is doubly vital for Gonzaga in this game, because few teams rebound the ball as well as North Carolina does.
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North Carolina Will Cover if:
The Tar Heels can force the Bulldogs into foul trouble. With Geno Crandall out with an injury, Gonzaga is down to seven players in its rotation. As great as Rui Hachimura and Zach Norvell Jr. have been, they can’t keep pace with North Carolina if they’ve got to play close to 40 minutes — nor can they help if they’re forced to the bench with foul trouble. Getting even one Gonzaga player in foul trouble in the first half will force Mark Few to change his game plan, which would give North Carolina a major edge.
Dan’s Pick to Cover the Spread:
Gonzaga has had two difficult games in a row, as it first escaped from Washington before losing to Tennessee. By contrast, North Carolina should be fresh after breezing by UNC-Wilmington. That and the home court advantage of playing in Chapel Hill are why I’ve got to take North Carolina here.
I don’t know what I’m going to get with North Carolina. There are a lot of unknowns here, mainly on whether they can beat another strong foe or are merely able to best the teams that sit an echelon below them. That’s got me worried about Carolina, as does the fact that Gonzaga hasn’t lost back-to-back home games since 2014.
But Gonzaga has a few unknowns of its own. Mainly, there’s the question of just how mentally prepared Gonzaga is to play this game. Mark Few has challenged his team with a tough slate of games, and the past two contests have suggested that the challenge is taking its toll on the Bulldogs. Gonzaga barely survived Washington and got picked off by Tennessee in a tight contest. With North Carolina serving as their last real test, Gonzaga might be dealing with mental fatigue as they enter this contest.
There’s also the strong possibility that Gonzaga simply isn’t deep enough to run with North Carolina for 40 minutes at this point in the season. The Tar Heels play a nine-man rotation to Gonzaga’s seven, and UNC will likely be fresher at the end of the contest. In a close game, that freshness is likely to prove critical, and that’s the biggest reason that I’m going to gamble on North Carolina to stymie Gonzaga and do what its rival could not: best the Bulldogs.