Sweet 16: Washington State Cougars vs. North Carolina Tar Heels Preview and Pick

(4) Washington State Cougars (26-8), +8, o/u 142 vs. North Carolina Tar Heels (34-2), -8, o/u 142, Charlotte Bobcats Arena, Charlotte, North Carolina, 7:27 p.m. Eastern, Thursday
by Oracle of Predictem.com

The chalk doesn’t lie when it comes to the East Regional.

No. 4 Washington State and No. 1 North Carolina are right where they’re supposed to be in the final 16 teams.

Neither team had much trouble getting there, either. The Cougars held Notre Dame to 24.4% shooting, which is the lowest such total during the second round in NCAA history, during their second round game. The Irish came into the game averaging nearly 80 points per game, but was blasted by the Cougars, 61-41.

Washington State also held Winthrop to just 11 points in the second half during a 71-40 win in the first round.

On the year, the Cougars are holding opponents to just 56.2 points per game second in the country.

They’ll have the tall task of taking on the nation’s top team in their home state of North Carolina. The Tar Heels have been ridiculous during the tournament, averaging 110.5 points in their first two games, and were even accused of running up the score during their 108-77 blasting of Arkansas.

These two teams’ contrasting styles will be something to watch. Washington State will look to slow down the game, as they did against Notre Dame, and be efficient offensively. The Cougars came in with the under total (133 and 114) in the first two rounds of the tournament. This time around, the over/under opened up at 142.

It’s a matter if bettors are believers in Washington State’s defense or North Carolina’s offense if they want to bet the over or the under.

Not surprisingly, online sportsbooks also opened the line with UNC the favorites -8.

The Tar Heels look to be hitting their stride, if they weren’t already, at the right time. Ty Lawson is recovering from an ankle injury, and his recent play in the tourney suggests he’s getting healthy. He played 24 minutes and scored 19 points while dishing out 7 assists in the win against Arkansas. He also scored 21 points on 7-of-9 shooting in 18 minutes against Mount St. Mary’s in their first round blowout win.

But again, it’s Tyler Hansbrough that engineers this train. The potential NCAA Player of they Year is as consistent as ever, averaging 18 points and 8 rebounds in the tournament. Washington State will have a tough time matching up against Hansbrough down low, as they rely heavily on their defensive guard play to stop opponents.

Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver hassle opposing guards, while also leading the team in scoring (14.1 and 12.2 points). They’ll need 6-foot 10-inch center Aron Baynes to handle Hansbrough down low. He did a stellar job against Notre Dame’s Luke Harangody, holding him to 3-of-17 shooting in their Round 2 win.

The Cougars have faired well for bettors this year, going 18-15 ATS, including 9-4 away from home. They’re also 5-1 in their last 6 when dogs of 7 to 12.5 points.

The Tar Heels have one of the best records ATS in the country at 22-11. They have covered well as of late when playing against the Pac-10, going 7-1 ATS in their last eight games. They’re also 5-1 ATS when they score 100 points or more in their previous game.

As expected, the under is a trend for Washington State, going 5-0 in their last five games after allowing less than 50 points in their previous game.

The Tar Heels shouldn’t have the explosive offense they’ve shown in the first two rounds against the Washington State defense. But the fact stands that they’ll be playing a third straight game in their home state of North Carolina.

Oracle’s Pick: The Cougars will stick with North Carolina most of the way. They’ll have to foul in the end, but they’ll still cover. Take Washington State plus the points!