NCAAB Picks North Carolina -4.5 vs. Wake Forest

Willie Bee

Sunday, January 5, 2014 1:48 PM UTC

Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014 1:48 PM UTC

We have already seen one of the mighty from the Atlantic Coast Conference lose its league opener. Will a second fall on Sunday?

The No. 19 North Carolina Tar Heels hope not as they travel up Tobacco Road to face the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. ESPNU will have the telecast from Memorial Coliseum in Winston-Salem, with the tip-off set for a little past 8 PM (ET).

SBR's live NCAA basketball odds had Roy Williams' Tar Heels going out as 3.5 point favorites in the first ACC contest for both schools, and that number has since gone up a point with even a few 5's showing up. Sportsbooks were apparently too timid to release an overnight total for the matchup.

It's a matchup that has taken place 220 times previously, and UNC has a big 155-65 advantage. Those 155 wins are more than North Carolina has against any other school, and the Heels are riding a string of four straight over the Deacs. Last year's lone meeting went to UNC in an 87-62 romp that easily covered a 14.5 point spread in Chapel Hill, just skipping past the total to stop a run of four consecutive 'unders' in the series.

Tar Heels Hope To Avoid Blue Devils' Fate

Even before Duke was upset at Notre Dame on Saturday, dropping a 79-77 decision as 5.5 point chalk, Williams knew the danger in this road opener for North Carolina (10-3 straight up, 7-6 against the spread). The Tar Heels are 7-3 under Williams in ACC openers, and one of those losses came here about four years ago when the then-No. 4 Demon Deacons topped No. 3 UNC, 92-89.

North Carolina tuned up for this contest with an 84-51 spanking of UNC-Wilmington on New Year's Eve, easily covering a big 21.5 point spread. The contest marked the first time, since the Heels beat Louisville in the finals of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament, they shot better than 50% from the field, as well as stopping a 3-game slide vs. the spread.

That string of spread defeats actually started with an outright loss at home to Texas a few weeks ago, and though they have won the three games since, the first two victories were rather lackluster performances vs. Davidson and Northern Kentucky. Even in the easy win over Wilmington, the Tar Heels committed 16 turnovers, half of those from forwards JP Tokoto and Kennedy Meeks combined.

The last few games have seen a shift in Williams' deep rotation as senior Leslie McDonald returned from an early suspension just as sophomore center Joel James went missing with a knee injury. James is doubtful again on Sunday.

Wake Looks To Rebound From Loss At Xavier

While the Tar Heels are playing just their third true road game of the season, Jeff Bzdelik's Demon Deacons are returning from their only true test in a hostile gym, and the outcome wasn't good. Wake Forest (10-3 SU, 5-4 ATS) is hitting the floor for the first time in eight days after a trip to Cincinnati to take on Xavier that resulted in a 68-53 loss to the Musketeers. The Deacs, 8.5 point underdogs, fell apart in the final 10 minutes of the first half when they watched a 24-22 advantage disappear during a near 8-minute scoreless run.

Wake Forest's two leading scorers, sophomores Codi Miller-McIntyre (17.0 ppg) and Devin Thomas (11.5 ppg), combined to shoot just 30% from the field at Xavier (6-of-20), and Bzdelik will need both to step things up against the Tar Heels. The Demon Deacons have shown they can hang on the glass with anyone -- 8th in the country with 42.8 RPG -- but will need to make all scoring chances count in order to hang with UNC on the scoreboard today.

This is a tough venue to win in, as evidenced by Wake Forest's perfect 9-0 record at home on this schedule, 10-0 dating back to last March. The Deacons beat two ranked ACC opponents on this floor as underdogs last season, but I'm not sure they have enough to take down these Tar Heels. I'm making my free NCAA basketball pick on the boys from Chapel Hill.

My pick: North Carolina -4.5 at Bet365

Season: 12-7 (+4.3)


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