Two of college basketball's most successful coaches match wits and talent Saturday when the Tar Heels host the Cardinals, and we've got a free pick for the crucial ACC matchup.
Roy Williams vs. Rick Pitino. That's just one of the subplots in a marquee matchup Saturday afternoon in Chapel Hill where the Louisville Cardinals and North Carolina Tar Heels tangle for the first time as conference foes.
The top 20 battle will be carried nationally by the Worldwide Leader in Sports beginning at 2 PM (ET) with the A-team, Dan Shulman and Dick Vitale, behind the microphones. North Carolina is favored by 3½, that spread down a half from when it first appeared on SBR's live NCAA basketball odds
We have seen these two scrap 12 times previously, nine of those meetings resulting in a Tar Heels victory. All but three of those games took place on neutral courts, four of them occurring during the NCAA Tournament including a Final Four dust-up in 1972.
The squads got together a little less than 14 months ago in the championship game of the Hall of Fame Classic in Connecticut, North Carolina pulling off a 93-84 upset of then-No. 3 Louisville. The last three clashes have each skipped past the totals, going back to the Cards' last series triumph in 1999.
The Ville Looks To Keep Perfect ACC Start Going
So far, so good for Louisville (14-1 straight up, 4-9-1 against the spread) in its inaugural campaign as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Cardinals have opened play with a win to Wake Forest and back home vs. Clemson, bouncing back from their only loss of the season at Kentucky coming out of the Christmas break.
While the 2-0 conference record to date is nice, Louisville didn't really play up to expectations in beating the Demon Deacons and Tigers. Wake muscled up inside to become the first team this season to shoot better than 50% from the field against the Cardinals, and could've pulled off an upset if not for leaving 15 points on the free-throw line. Louisville then had a poor night on offense vs. Clemson, having to rely on its defense to get past the Tigers in a fourth consecutive spread setback.
Pitino's troops also need explosive second halves from Chris Jones in both victories. The senior out of Memphis tallied 20 in the final 20 minutes of each game, helping to make up for off games by both Montrezl Harrell and leading scorer Terry Rozier in the rally against Clemson.
Pressure On UNC To Avoid 2nd Conference Loss
North Carolina (11-4 SU, 10-5 ATS) saw a 5-game win streak come to an end on Monday with a tough 71-70 defeat at the hands of Notre Dame. The Tar Heels battled back from an 11-point hole to take a 1-point lead with two minutes to go before missing their final five shots. A second conference loss this early would create an uphill climb for Williams' kids, and also mark the first time in about five years UNC dropped successive ACC home tilts.
North Carolina dominated the glass in the loss to the Irish, yet couldn't make the 21 offensive boards count by consistently missing second chances. Marcus Paige missed 11 of his 17 tries, going 2-for-8 from 3-point land, and will need his A-game against Louisville's pressure defense if the Heels hope to move to 2-1 in the ACC ranks.
Last season's contest saw Louisville come out strong to take the early lead before North Carolina finally got things in gear. After trailing by as many as nine in the first six minutes, the Heels played with a little more intensity on defense as Paige started to light it up on the offensive end en route to a then-career best 32 points.
I'm going to get behind Pitino and the Cards in this one with my NCAA basketball pick, perhaps not an outright Louisville victory but still enough points to cover a close contest.
NCAA Basketball Pick: Louisville +3.5 at BookMaker
Season: 12-18 (-7.80)