North Carolina and Kentucky are two of the most storied programs in the history of college basketball. And while these two teams were not originally scheduled to face one another this weekend, COVID-19 induced changes to each team’s plans have resulted in them tangling in Las Vegas on Saturday. In this North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Kentucky Wildcats matchup, both teams will need to adjust on the fly if they want to pick up a win that will help them gain confidence before conference play.
The Tar Heels were supposed to play UCLA this weekend, while Kentucky was supposed to play Ohio State. And while it is sad that their opponents were not able to take the floor due to COVID protocols, the end result is a matchup between blue blood programs in Vegas. That is likely good news to most college basketball fans, as this matchup is certainly one of the most enticing on the schedule during the non-conference portion of this season.
North Carolina Tar Heels – Defense Is A Concern
The North Carolina Tar Heels are off to an 8-2 start to this season, which may be disappointing depending on how you look at it. While their 8-2 record looks good, and they did pick up a win over another top program in Michigan, they faltered in their other two big tests of the season so far. They were beaten rather convincingly by both Purdue and Tennessee, both of whom have spent the bulk of this season in the top-20 in the rankings thus far.
Here, the Tar Heels will need to play well defensively if they want to beat the Kentucky Wildcats and claim that they are deserving of a spot in the top-25 in the college basketball rankings. Purdue and Tennessee both scored 89 points or more against North Carolina, something the Tar Heels certainly will not be able to afford to allow in this contest with the Wildcats. Preventing Oscar Tshiebwe from getting offensive rebounds and creating second chances will be key for the Tar Heels here.
Expected Line-Up: Leaky Black, Caleb Love, RJ Davis, Armando Bacot, Dawson Garcia
with best odds
Kentucky Wildcats – Looking For First Impressive Win
Kentucky is off to a 7-2 start to this season, and is ranked 21st in the nation coming into this matchup. But there are some questions about just how good the Wildcats are this season, based on their performances against other quality teams in the early portion of the year. The Wildcats have played just two power conference teams this season, losing to both Duke and Notre Dame to raise questions about their legitimacy as a contender this season.
Right now, Oscar Tshiebwe has been arguably too big a part of the Kentucky offense this season. He is averaging over 16 points and 14 rebounds per game, as Kentucky hasn’t been able to find consistent production from their guards just yet. Against a North Carolina team that has given up plenty of points on occasion this year, Kentucky’s guards have another chance to prove themselves, though they may not be able to.
Expected Line-Up: Kellan Grady, Sahvir Wheeler, TyTy Washington Jr., Keion Brooks Jr., Oscar Tshiebwe
Expert Pick #1 – Kentucky -2.5 @ -110
The first bet to place on this game is Kentucky -2.5 at -110 odds. This tip is based on the fact that North Carolina has proven to struggle on defense against explosive competition. And while Kentucky isn’t quite as good as UNC’s original opponent in UCLA, Kentucky should be able to control the glass with Tshiebwe and ride that advantage to a win that will jump start their season.
Expert Pick #2 – Over 147 @ -110
The second bet to place here is on the over 147 at -110 odds. North Carolina’s defense has been inconsistent throughout the season, while the defense of Kentucky hasn’t really been tested outside of the one entertaining affair they played against Duke. Both of these teams should trade blows for the bulk of the game, even if Kentucky should be able to pull away near the tail end.
Expert Pick #3 – Kentucky Over 74.5 Points @ -115
Our final bet for this contest comes in the form of Kentucky over 74.5 points at -115 odds. While the Tar Heels did hold Michigan under 70 points rather easily in that win, their failure to hold the other two power conference foes they have faced under 89 points suggests that Kentucky could be in for a big game here.
In this strange era of college basketball, getting this game after multiple games were canceled due to COVID-19 is nothing short of a gift. But this game won’t feel like much of a gift for North Carolina. Expect the Kentucky Wildcats to come away with a big win here in Las Vegas in a high-scoring affair.