Here are three best NCAA Basketball picks on the total for ESPN's Rivalry Night. Naturally we include one of the greatest rivalries of all time: North Carolina vs. Duke.
No. 15 N. Carolina vs. No. 4 Duke (157.5 at sportsbooks)
This won't affect the total, I feel confident in saying, but for some reason ESPN pulled Dick Vitale off this game. That's sad because Dickie V helped make this rivalry what it is on the network. It's the first time he won't be on the broadcast team for a Duke-Carolina matchup on ESPN since he joined the network 36 years ago. No reason was given. This could well be the highest-scoring game on the schedule as it features two very good offenses. Duke ranks sixth in the nation in shooting (49.7 percent), eighth in points (80.3 ppg) and might have the most dominant offensive big man in the nation in freshman Jahlil Okafor (shooting crazy 66.5 percent from the field). North Carolina is No. 1 nationally in assists (17.6 per game), No. 2 in rebounding (42.3 per game), No. 17 in scoring (78.7 ppg) and has perhaps the ACC's top point guard in Marcus Paige. Both teams can leave something to be desired on the defensive end at times. In Duke's three losses, it has allowed at least 77 points. UNC has allowed at least 75 points in its past three defeats, including a season-high 89 at Pittsburgh on Saturday.
NCAA Basketball Free Pick: Under 156 at 5Dimes. Yes, I think this will be fairly high-scoring, but 157.5 points is a lot in college basketball in this day and age. Plus a lot of young guys on the court who might be a bit too amped up for their first UNC-Duke game. The 'under' also has hit in the past 12 meetings and is 9-3 in both teams' past 12 vs. schools with a winning record.
No. 12 Louisville vs. Syracuse (130.5 on NCAA basketball odds)
We stay in the ACC for this game between the Cardinals and Orange and it should be a totally different tempo than UNC-Duke as you can see by the vast difference in the totals. Louisville is one of the best defensive teams in the country with its pressure and the shot-blocking Montrezl Harrell in the middle. The Cards are ninth nationally in blocks (5.9 per game), 17th in steals (8.5 per game) and 18th in points allowed (59.0 ppg). Syracuse, meanwhile, always gives opponents fits with that dreaded 2-3 zone defense, daring teams to shoot from outside. That's not a strength of Louisville. The Orange also have a great big man patrolling the paint in Rakeem Christmas. The Cardinals will be without one of their best players but are still favored in the NCAA Basketball odds. Starting guard Chris Jones has been suspended indefinitely. He was averaging 13.6 points, 3.9 rebounds and a team-best 3.7 assists. It's the schools' first meeting as ACC members.
NCAA Basketball Free Pick: 'Under.' It is 4-1 in Louisville's past five games and 6-0 in Syracuse's past six at home.
UCLA vs. Arizona State (139.5 points on NCAA betting)
Quite a turnaround for the Bruins as they were left for dead this season following a five-game losing streak that concluded with an ugly 71-39 rout at Utah on Jan. 4. UCLA was just 8-7 overall then an 0-2 in the Pac-12 and had zero hopes for an NCAA Tournament bid. Coach Steve Alford's club has lost only three times since then, all on the road, and now ESPN has the Bruins in the Big Dance, albeit barely as one of the schools playing in the First Four. During this 8-3 run, UCLA has won every game in which it scored over 64 points and lost the three times it was at 64 or under. It's not a particularly good defensive team, ranking No. 227 in allowing 68.2 points per game. But freshman Kevin Looney is a double-double machine, and Norman Powell and Bryce Alford (coach's son) are among the Pac-12 scoring leaders. Arizona State beat Arizona on Feb. 7 but really has not other wins of note. The Sun Devils will retire urn James Harden's jersey at this game and the "Beard" will be there.
NCAA Basketball Free Pick: 'Over.' It is 5-2 in UCLA's past seven vs. teams with a winning record. The 'over' is 8-2 in ASU's past 10 at home.