Will Tar Heels tear apart Orange?
Brimming with elite-level talent and experience, North Carolina was always supposed to be in Houston at this time. No. 10 seed Syracuse obviously took a far more circuitous route to the Final Four. In the end, though, ACC juggernauts simply find a way to meet up.
Mere hours from now, a week’s worth of pomp and circumstance will blissfully yield to tangible action at NRG Stadium. The Tar Heels and Orange collide in the night’s second semifinal matchup, with a 8:49 p.m. ET tip in the Lone Star State. This evening’s victor advances to combat either Villanova or Oklahoma in Monday’s national championship bout.
According to online sports book Bovada.lv, UNC is a 9.5-point favorite to reach its 10th men’s final. The over/under total du jour: 144.
Roy Williams’ crew won both regular-season contests against Syracuse, including an 11-point triumph in the Carrier Dome in Jim Boeheim’s return from a nine-game suspension. The Orange shot below 30 percent from deep in those affairs and struggled to shed the Tar Heels’ ferocious defense.
Marksmanship wasn’t a problem, however, as Michael Gbinije and company knocked off Virginia in the Elite Eight by erasing a double-digit deficit in the second half. Syracuse also defeated Dayton, Middle Tennessee State and Gonzaga in the Big Dance’s first three rounds.
Chapel Hill’s finest haven’t been tested nearly as much throughout March Madness. After trouncing Indiana in the Sweet 16, North Carolina converted 72 percent of its two-point attempts vs. Notre Dame. Forward Brice Johnson logged his 23rd double-double of the campaign in that 88-74 W over the Fighting Irish, setting a new school record, and fellow senior Marcus Paige’s renaissance up top means the Tar Heels are operating at maximum efficiency.
Conversely, the Orange had lost five of six when the 68-team field was announced three Sundays ago. Boeheim’s group represents the first double-digit seed to get to the Final Four since VCU turned the trick in 2011. With all due respect to leading scorer Gbinije, resident gunner Malachi Richardson and the rest of the gang, the phrase “playing with house money” springs to mind here.
Does that not make a squad even more dangerous, though? In a fair number of cases, absolutely. But see what a devil-may-care attitude accomplishes in the face of the lone No. 1 seed remaining in the festivities.
In four tilts against league foes in the ACC and NCAA tournaments this year, UNC outscored opponents by 66 points. Syracuse’s live-by-the-3, die-by-the-3 offensive mentality just won’t be good enough to trump the Tar Heels’ length and quickness. Look for a runaway after intermission.
SATURDAY NCAA FREE PICK: NORTH CAROLINA -9.5