Defending Champ UNC Heavy Chalk, but Can Lipscomb Hang?

Jay Pryce

Wednesday, March 14, 2018 3:18 PM UTC

Wednesday, Mar. 14, 2018 3:18 PM UTC

North Carolina, on a quest to become just the third repeat champion in the past 45 years, is a 19.5-point favorite against Big Dance debutant Lipscomb in Friday's West Region matchup.

North Carolina (25-10 SU, 19-14 ATS) vs. Lipscomb (23-9 SU, 4-2 ATS)Free NCAAB Pick: Under 160Best Line Offered: BetOnline

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Lipscomb is in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history after beating Florida Gulf Coast in the Atlantic Sun Tournament final. Few have watched or even placed a bet on the team all season, with just six games listed on the college basketball odds board. For fans unfamiliar with the Bisons, there is one player to key while handicapping: guard Garrison Mathews.

The 6-foot-5 junior posts 22.1 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 1.7 assists per game. He is a legit sharpshooter, draining 38.9 percent from deep on the year. Mathews can also drive to the hoop, but it’s doubtful he’ll take any athletic Tar Heel starter off the dribble in this matchup. The marksman will be dangerous enough from long-range where the favorites are weakest. In four matchups against Power 5 school -- including Alabama, Texas, Tennessee, and Purdue -- Mathews averaged 19.8 points per game. The Bisons put up 64.5 overall on 35.2-percent shooting.

North Carolina struggled at times this year, at one point sitting 5-5 in ACC play, but enters the NCAA Tournament a No. 2 seed and confident it can defend its crown. Despite a few season blips, the fact remains the Tar Heels own more quad one wins than any team in the nation. The blue-blood program steps it up in big games when they count. This is bad news for Lipscomb fans in a win-or-go-home format. Oh, and the fact UNC has never lost in the opening round of the Big Dance under head coach Roy Williams.

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No. 2 seed in the West Region. Turn up!!!#CarolinaSZN #WhyNot

— Carolina Basketball (@UNC_Basketball) March 11, 2018

What can bettors expect in this mismatch? A whole lot of the typical Carolina transition offense, but it will not be as explosive as the numbers suggest. This team is tired and bit banged up. Guard Cameron Johnson (12.7 ppg), who injured his back and sat out the latter portion of the ACC title game versus Virginia, is expected to play, but likely limited minutes. In addition, backcourt teammate Joel Berry (17.1 ppg) is nursing a tender ankle. Couple this with the fact the Tar Heels played four straight late games in New York last week, and it's likely team rhythm and energy levels will be inconsistent.

There’s also a bit of history that indicates the Tar Heels will not romp in this spot. Since 2006, Carolina has played six separate A-Sun programs, winning by 22.5 points on average. The point differential is a bit skewed courtesy of a 53-point blowout over Gardner-Webb in the third game of the 2006 season. Toss that contest, and the average margin sinks to 16.5 points per game. All but the last meeting took place at the Dean Smith Center. The top-seeded Tar Heels topped Florida Gulf Coast 83-67 on a neutral court in the first-round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament as 23.5-point favorites. It was one of two to hit the board. North Carolina dropped both.

Lipscomb loses by double digits here, but look for a margin closer to 10 then 20. Pocket the points. The best bet with your NCAAB picks, however, is "under" 160.5 points. The combined score in the six prior matchups between UNC and A-Sun teams never surpassed 153 points. All but one occurred before the shot-clock changes, though the Heels’ 46.6 overall shooting percentage suggests they will come up short of their projected 90 points. The Bisons, meanwhile, will be lucky to hit the mid-60s.

Check out SBR’s college basketball odds page for updated lines. Also, head over to the March Madness Betting Headquarters for vital handicapping information, picks, and a list of the best sports books and live betting options for the tournament season.

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