Rutgers Scarlet Knights vs. North Carolina Tar Heels Preview and Pick – Point Spread

Rutgers Scarlet Knights (9-2 SU, 4-3 ATS) vs. North Carolina Tar Heels (9-3 SU, 4-5 ATS), 8:30 p.m. EST, Monday, December 28, 2009, Dean E. Smith Center, Chapel Hill, N.C. TV: ESPN2
by Ryno of

Point Spread: Rutgers +21/North Carolina -21
Over/Under: 149.5

It’s a tough task for one of the worst teams in the Big East to pull off a win on the road at one of the toughest places to play against the defending champions and one of the best teams in the country. But Rutgers hopes to at least be competitive in its game at North Carolina on Monday night.

Last season, the Scarlet Knights were very competitive for most of the game at North Carolina before eventually losing the game by 22. But keep in mind that was against a team that ended up winning the National Championship. This year’s edition of the Tar Heels aren’t quite as dominant as the team that featured Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Tyler Hansbrough. But they are still worlds above the Scarlet Knights and include more than a handful of McDonald’s All-Americans.

While last year’s Tar Heels were all about running up and down the court and scoring quick points, this year’s team is all about pounding the ball inside to their big men. The Tar Heels still can run and gun, though not with the same level of elite talent, but their extremely big frontcourt presents problems for almost any team they play against. Deon Thompson (16.1 ppg, 7.8 rpg), Ed Davis (15.0 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 2.8 bpg), John Henson (3.7 ppg, 3.0 rpg) and Tyler Zeller (10.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg) can all dominate down low and also step out for mid-range jumpers.

Larry Drew isn’t yet Lawson, but he is steadily making steps towards becoming a top-notch point guard. Drew is averaging 6.6 assists per game and shooting over 41 percent from 3-point range. Marcus Ginyard is not only an excellent perimeter defender but he is shooting about 47 percent from beyond the arc. Will Graves and Dexter Strickland give the Tar Heels two more option from long distance. When the UNC guards are hitting their perimeter shots, they are very tough to beat.

Rutgers is a very young team with six of its eight key players being in their first or second year with the Scarlet Knights. Mike Rosario is the key for the Scarlet Knights. He is leading the team in scoring with 17.7 points per game. If Rutgers is going to have any chance in this game, Rosario must have one of the best games of his career and he has to make a high percentage of his shots. The sophomore guard has a very quick release and is able to create shots for himself or hit long jumpers off screens. Hamady Ndiaye is the senior leader for Rutgers and is perhaps the biggest key for the Scarlet Knights. The 7-foot center, who is averaging 9.7 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.7 blocks (leads the nation), has to stay out of foul trouble and dominate on the defensive end of the floor. The Tar Heels have so many skilled big men, so Ndiaye has to keep them out of the paint and grab as many rebounds and block as many shots as possible. Other guys need to step up as well for Rutgers. Jonathan Mitchell is a solid combo forward who can help out down low and step out to the perimeter and hit jumpers. Dane Miller is an athletic freshman small forward who can finish above the rim. Mike Coburn and James Beatty will share point guard responsibilities. Coburn can use his quickness and strength to get to the basket and create shots for others. Beatty and Patrick Jackson are both capable of knocking down some outside jumpers.

Ryno’s Pick: A lot would have to go right for Rutgers to pull off this upset. It’s really difficult to even say there is a remote chance of that happening. But the Scarlet Knights can put out a quality effort and leave the Dean Dome with some confidence heading into Big East play. If Ndiaye gets into foul trouble, UNC could really blow this game wide open, especially if Rutgers turns the ball over a lot. For the Scarlet Knights to keep it close, they have to force some turnovers and crash the boards at both ends of the floor. Based on the line, there is more value in betting the underdog. Rutgers is playing fairly well right now. The Scarlet Knights are looking better than they were at this point last season and the Tar Heels weren’t as strong. The Scarlet Knights lost by 22 last year and should certainly do better this time around. Take Rutgers +21.