Kentucky Wildcats vs. North Carolina Tar Heels Pick
Kentucky Wildcats (8-2 SU, 4-6 ATS) vs. North Carolina Tar Heels (8-2 SU, 5-3-2 ATS)
When: Saturday, December 22, 2018 – 7 PM ET
Where: United Center, Chicago
By: Dan Jamison, College Basketball Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: UK +3.5/UNC -3.5 (Intertops)
Total: O/U 166
Last Time Out: Kentucky routed Utah 88-61; North Carolina defeated Gonzaga 103-90.
Analyzing the Wildcats:
Kentucky’s 8-2 record looks pretty impressive, but the reality is that the Wildcats don’t have any really impressive wins on their resume at the moment. Other than a Utah squad that lost at home by double digits to Hawaii, the Wildcats haven’t beaten a single Power 6 program this season and haven’t won a game away from Rupp Arena this year, losing their two neutral-site contests to Duke and Seton Hall.
When things have gone well for the Wildcats, they’ve shot the ball well from beyond the 3-point arc. Keldon Johnson likes to get out and shoot it, and he did that well against Utah, hitting 6-of-7 from deep. But in their two losses, the Cats were a combined 9-for-37 from behind the arc. Given how well North Carolina rebounds, Kentucky can’t afford to be off with its shooting.
Analyzing the Tar Heels:
North Carolina does two things very well: score and rebound. The Tar Heels rank third in the nation in scoring at 94 points per game and pull down 45 rebounds per game, good for fourth in the nation. They love to play fast and they aren’t likely to beat themselves with turnovers. But where the Tar Heels have struggled is stopping other efficient offenses, especially when their opponent is able to frustrate them on defense. Texas was able to do enough on defense to get the Tar Heels out of sorts when they didn’t have the ball, leading to a surprising upset. So too was Michigan in a game where coach Roy Williams was steamed at his team. Kentucky doesn’t quite have a defense of that caliber, but John Calipari’s crew does play credibly at that end of the floor, which could present a challenge to Carolina.
Rebounding. Normally, this is a big edge to Carolina, given how well the Tar Heels get after the basketball. However, Kentucky doesn’t get beat very often on the boards either, outrebounding their opponents by nearly 13 boards per game. There is a question as to how much of Kentucky’s rebounding edge was a product of its schedule, but the Wildcats did play Duke, who rebounds almost as well as Carolina, to a virtual draw on the boards (Duke grabbed 38 to Kentucky’s 37 in the season opener), suggesting that the Wildcats really do rebound as well as the Tar Heels. Proving it will be key to a win.
Kentucky Will Cover if:
The Wildcats can get hot from the outside. Points are not exactly going to be at a premium in this game given how well both of these teams can score, but shots might be given how good both teams are at holding their opponent to one look at the basket. Kentucky has to either make its shots from deep or dominate North Carolina on the offensive boards enough to extend their possessions and get good looks inside. The latter is an unlikely proposition, so the Cats will need to count on Johnson and others to hit their 3-pointers.
Read Predictem’s second selection for today: Kansas vs ASU Pick
North Carolina Will Cover if:
The Tar Heels can clean up the mistakes they made against Gonzaga. As well as North Carolina played against the Bulldogs, one thing they didn’t do was take care of the basketball. If they can play the way they played against Gonzaga without committing too many turnovers, they’ll be in great shape.
Dan’s Pick to Cover the Spread:
Neutral-site games between two national programs like Kentucky and North Carolina are always a challenge to pick. Both teams will have plenty of fans in the stands, and this atmosphere will feel like an NCAA tournament-type game. That last point is why I have to lean toward North Carolina in this one.
The simple fact is, Carolina is the team that has prepared itself for this contest. The Tar Heels have played three true road games and won two of them and gone 1-1 in neutral-site games. Meanwhile, Kentucky hasn’t faced a hostile environment even once and has gone 0-2 outside of Rupp Arena.
That says that North Carolina is well-prepared to handle this environment and should have an easier time of calling on its experience if it finds itself in a close game against Kentucky. Kentucky simply hasn’t shown enough at this point in the season to suggest that it can beat a team like North Carolina, so I’ve got to go with the Tar Heels to lay the small margin.