NCAA Tournament Picks: Final Four No. 10 Seed Syracuse Faces North Carolina

Matthew Jordan

Wednesday, March 30, 2016 6:30 PM UTC

Wednesday, Mar. 30, 2016 6:30 PM UTC

This is Saturday's second Final Four game as No. 10 seed Syracuse looks to continue its improbable tourny run against N. Carolina. The Heels are -9 on the NCAA basketball odds. 

Orange First No. 10 Ever In Semifinals
I'm still a bit ticked off that Syracuse (23-13) even got into the Big Dance despite losing five of its final six games. Just because the Orange have become the first-ever No. 10 seed to make the Final Four doesn't justify things. Coach Jim Boeheim's team got a pretty favorable draw once Midwest Region No. 2 Michigan State was knocked out in Round 1.

If I'm being honest, I didn't expect Syracuse to beat Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 but I can't stay that was stunning. It took a big second-half rally. I surely didn't expect the Orange to beat No. 1 Virginia in the Elite Eight, but I did recommend taking the 8-point spread. SU won 68-62 thanks to an amazing second-half rally once Boeheim had his team use full-court pressure, which the offensively-challenged Cavaliers couldn't handle. SU had 21 total points at halftime yet had one 20-point stretch over four minutes in the second half to erase a 16-point hole.

It's not like this team isn't talented. Michael Gbinije was second-team All-ACC and a member of the All-ACC Defensive Team. Freshmen Malachi Richardson, a five-star recruit, and Tyler Lydon have really raised their games in the NCAA Tournament to the point that both could now be first-round picks in the 2016 NBA Draft if they leave school early. Lydon had 11 points, six rebounds and five blocks vs. Virginia, while Richardson had 23 points, seven rebounds and two steals. How will those two perform on the biggest of stages?

Syracuse of course uses a 2-3 zone on defense in the half court and SU has allowed only 0.798 points per possession on 39 percent shooting through four games of the Big Dance when using that zone. That's spectacular. But Syracuse hasn't seen an offensive team close to UNC.

The Orange are +1100 on NCAA basketball odds to win the national title. They are 20-15 against the spread this season and 18-17 'over/under.'


Tar Heels Fulfilling Expectations
North Carolina (32-6) was expected to be here as the Heels were one of the most experienced teams in the country entering the season -- returning four starters and nine of their Top 10 scorers -- and were the preseason No. 1 team in the Associated Press Top 25. You should know that only in 14 previous seasons has the preseason No.  1 team in that poll won the national title. UNC did it twice: 1982 & 2009, which was the last time North Carolina reached the Final Four.

The Tar Heels won the ACC regular-season and tournament titles and bring a nine-game winning streak into this one. They have won every game in this tournament by 14 points, which was the margin of victory over No. 6 Notre Dame (88-74) in the Elite Eight. Carolina could have one of the easiest roads ever to winning a national title, as if it were to win it the combined seed total of the opponents would be 48: No. 16 Florida Gulf Coast, No. 9 Providence, No. 5 Indiana, No. 6 Notre Dame, No. 10 Syracuse and then either No. 2 Oklahoma  or No. 2 Villanova on Monday night.

The Heels are led by forward Brice Johnson, who was named First-Team All-American this week. Johnson was named the Most Outstanding Player of the East Region and is averaging 21.0 points and 9.8 rebounds in this tournament. He's the first UNC player ever to score 20 points and grab 10 rebounds in three consecutive NCAA Tournament games.

If there's one worry for North Carolina, which is one of the highest-scoring teams in the country, it's 3-point shooting. UNC shot just 32.1 percent from beyond the 3-point line this season, ranking 285th in the country. It hasn't bothered them yet, however.

North Carolina is the -110 favorite on NCAA basketball picks to win the national title. The Heels are 19-18-1 ATS and 20-18 O/U.


Season Series
On Jan. 9 at Syracuse, North Carolina was a 7.5-point favorite on sportsbooks (total of 152.5) and won 84-73. That was Boeheim's first game back from his nine-game suspension. Johnson had 16 points, eight assists and four rebounds. Lydon had just two points for the Orange. On Feb. 29 in Chapel Hill, UNC was a 13-point favorite (total of 146.5) and won 75-70. Johnson had 14 points and 10 rebounds. UNC was just 6-for-25 from 3-point range. Gbinije scored 17 points for the Orange with seven assists but also seven turnovers.

I'll eat my hat if the Orange pull another upset, but I'm taking the points. They are playing with extreme confidence and know these Heels well. SU will force UNC to make 3-pointers. Go 'under' the total. SU is 4-1 ATS in its past five against ACC teams. It has covered three of the past five against UNC. The 'under' is 4-1 in SU's past five NCAA Tournament games. The 'under' is 13-5 in North Carolina's past 18 vs. the ACC. 

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Free NCAA Basketball Pick: Under 144.5
Best Line Offered: at 5Dimes

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