Big Monday Has Close Opening Affair in ACC Clash in Blacksburg

Tar Heels play Hokies

Doug Upstone

Monday, January 22, 2018 4:08 PM GMT

Monday, Jan. 22, 2018 4:08 PM GMT

North Carolina and Virginia Tech have been a basketball bettor's nightmare, with each team covering only one spread in ACC play. For tonight's NCAAB picks, which team will make it two?

Monday College Basketball: North Carolina vs. Virginia Tech

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Free NCAAB Pick: Virginia Tech +5Best Line Offered: Heritage

The Tar Heels are 5-2 in conference play, and to say the college basketball odds on them have been accurate is an understatement. North Carolina is 1-3 ATS with THREE pushes! That in and of itself is rather remarkable. The Hokies are 2-4 and 1-5 ATS in Atlantic Coast Conference play and have beaten the spread just once since Dec. 7.

North Carolina opened as -5 road favorites, but who has the edge for our NCAAB picks in the opening game of ESPN's Big Monday presentation?

North Carolina Not Scoring as Easily

Most of the numbers for the Heels (16-4, 9-7-3 ATS) look right, but something is missing. North Carolina is averaging 82.7 points a game, has a rebound margin of +13 and welcomed back four players who played important roles from last year's championship team. So what is the problem for Roy Williams' squad?

North Carolina does not have its usual array of players 6-foot-10 or taller who guard the rim, gather missed shots and put them back in the basket. That is why this team is not up to usual shooting standards and is at 46 percent.

Forward Luke Maye is the Heels' top scorer and rebounder, but it is safe to say Joe Barry II, Kenny Williams and Theo Pinson have not produced as expected.

Virginia Tech's Lack of Size Matters

The Hokies (13-6, 8-7 ATS) can score and shoot with anyone in the country, ranking 13th in scoring at 85.6 ppg. Because they are so effective pushing the ball and getting to the rim, Coach Buzz Williams' team is second in the nation in field-goal percentage at 51.2 percent.

Why, then, doesn't Virginia Tech have a better record? Center Kerry Blackshear Jr. (6-foot-10) is the only player in the regular rotation taller than 6-6. If he gets in foul trouble like he did in a loss to Florida State on Saturday, the Hokies do not measure up. Going back to a mid-December loss at Kentucky, Virginia Tech has frequently played very well for the first 35 minutes and faded down the stretch. The shooting legs are tired, hoists are not as accurate and they cannot make stops in the half court at crunch time.

The Verdict

For my money, the spread appears dead on. For the Hokies, this is a big game trying to keep NCAA Tournament hopes alive. Though they have obvious defensive shortcomings, UNC has failed to cover its past three road games, and if Virginia Tech plays as I expect, this should be a two- or three-point outcome. The clincher: The Heels are 5-13 ATS on the road against teams making 37 percent or better from behind the arc, so go with the Hokies plus the points.

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