You can't swing a dead cat around without hitting some television analyst droning on or reading some reporter's take about what's wrong with the North Carolina Tar Heels right now. A lot of it is deserved with the Tar Heels beginning their Atlantic Coast Conference slate with two losses to fall well outside the top 25.
But savvy college basketball bettors and fans know UNC is still a very dangerous team heading into a tough road test at the No. 2 Syracuse Orange on Saturday. The high noon (ET) tip will be carried by ESPN.
Betting numbers for the eighth hardwood meeting all-time between the schools have yet to be released, so keep your browser pointed at SBR's live NCAA basketball odds to catch the spread and total once they do come out.
North Carolina has the slight 4-3 edge over Syracuse in the previous seven clashes, though only one took place in the last quarter-century. That game came Nov. 2009 at Madison Square Garden in the finals of the 2K Sports Classic; the unranked Orange closed as 1 point underdogs against the then-No. 4 Tar Heels, and ran away with an 87-71 victory that just fell short of a 159.5 point total.
Heels Pick Tough Opponent For 1st ACC Victory
It isn't like the North Carolina (10-5 straight up, 7-8 against the spread) has played poorly in every game, and it's the inconsistency from game to game or even possession to possession that has to be driving head coach Roy Williams crazy. After all, this is a team that beat defending champion Louisville as a 10-point underdog to win the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament, a team that embarrassed a very good Michigan State squad on its own home court in East Lansing, and bested Kentucky to cover as a home favorite.
For anyone scoring at home, those are wins over teams currently ranked No. 12, No. 5 and No. 14 in the latest AP Poll.
But it's also a team that lost to Belmont and Texas in Chapel Hill, and fell at Wake Forest as 6.5 point chalk a week ago before losing to Miami this past Wednesday. Critics have been pointing to defense as the main culprit, and some of that blame is warranted. Still, it's the turnovers and poor shooting of their own that have plagued the Tar Heels in early ACC action.
North Carolina is averaging 14 turnovers in the first two ACC contests, committing 17 vs. the Demon Deacons last weekend. The Heels also connected on just 35% of their field goal tries in those games, sinking but 7-of-36 (19.4%) shots from beyond the arc. It's imperative those numbers improve to have any chance vs. the Orange.
Syracuse Stay Unbeaten With Win At Hokies
Meanwhile, Syracuse (15-0 SU, 7-4 ATS) looks very comfortable in its first season in the ACC. The Orange, among the favorites at +250 to win the conference before the campaign tipped off, did find the sledding a bit tough vs. Miami last weekend before rallying to nip the Hurricanes, but bounced right back with a convincing win at Virginia Tech, easily covering a 12-point spread in Tuesday's 72-52 triumph.
Jim Boeheim's bunch has committed half as many turnovers so far in conference play as the Tar Heels, and after one of their worst offensive performances of the season against Miami, the Orange rediscovered their shooting touch Tuesday at Va Tech, connecting on more than 40% of the long-range attempts.
One of UNC's chief downfalls the past two games has been the play of point guard Marcus Paige, and the sophomore is really going to have to step things up against the Orange. Paige is averaging 17.0 PPG on the year, but managed just 16 combined in the losses to Wake and Miami, finding the net only three times in 19 3-point attempts. North Carolina can't expect to score consistently inside vs. Syracuse's defense, so Paige has to get in a rhythm from outside from the start.
And until North Carolina breaks out of this funk, I see no reason to back them with a free NCAA basketball pick.
My pick: Lean Syracuse Minus Points