The 2017 Elite Eight is full of good matchups, but one stands out above the rest : North Carolina vs. Kentucky. Not only is this a storied rivalry between two of the winningest teams of all time, but it’s also the toughest matchup.
As we’ve discussed all along, we believe that UNC is destined to win the tournament based on their experience and talent. But with three potential NBA lottery picks on their team, Kentucky is certainly capable of winning this game and the entire tourney.
Who will move on to the Final Four? Which team should you bet on? Let’s find out by looking at the betting line along with why each team can cover the spread/win the game.
No. 2 Kentucky (32-5) vs. No. 1 UNC (30-7); Sunday (Mar 26 @ 5:05pm)
GTBets.eu Betting Line: UNC -2.5 (-110); Kentucky +2.5 (-110)
Why the Wildcats will Cover the Spread
Earlier this week, we thought the Kentucky vs. UCLA game would go differently, with the Bruins winning again thanks to their uptempo style. But the Wildcats picked apart UCLA’s defense with their own uptempo attack, while also stopping their opponent in an 86-75 victory.
A big reason why the Bruins lost is the play of Kentucky freshman guard De’Aaron Fox. Perhaps fueled by the mock drafts and scouts considering UCLA’s Lonzo Ball to be the better point guard, Fox exploded for 39 points. A virtual lock as a top-5 draft pick, Fox hit 13-of-20 from the field on an assortment of floaters and running jumpers. He’ll need to showcase this kind of talent again if Kentucky is going to beat a more-experienced North Carolina team.
Also critical to the cause are fellow future NBAers Malik Monk and Edrice “Bam” Adebayo. Monk, a 6’3″ freshman shooting guard, made 8-of-17 shots en route to 21 points. He and Fox are hitting their stride at the right time and nearly beat UCLA by themselves.
Bam was neutralized, scoring just 2 points and grabbing 4 rebounds. Given that he’s averaging 13 points and 8 rebounds on the season, Kentucky needs the 6’10” forward to step up against the Tar Heels.
Luckily for the Wildcats, senior forward Derek Willis had a solid game with 8 points, 8 boards, and 4 assists. He only shot 3-of-11 from the field, but still did enough as a role player to aid Fox and Monk.
Summarizing Kentucky’s chances, Fox and Monk will be the most-talented players on the floor Sunday. If they’re hot again, then John Calipari’s squad will reach their fourth Final Four in the last seven years.
From a betting perspective, Kentucky is only 4-7 against the spread (ATS) in their last 11 games.
Why the Tar Heels will cover the Spread
While Butler has been a giant slayer in recent years, they weren’t able to keep up with North Carolina in a 92-80 loss.
The team’s offensive stars, F Justin Jackson and G Joel Berry III, came through with 24 and 26 points, respectively, on a combined 17-of-31 shooting. Both players are juniors who’ve been through the tournament grind before and won’t be rattled in a close game.
While Jackson and Berry are great players, what makes the Tar Heels so good is their depth. This was put on full display with Kennedy Meeks grabbing 11 rebounds, Isaiah Hicks scoring 9 points on 4-of-5 shooting, and Luke Maye coming off the bench to score 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting.
This represents the biggest problem for the Wildcats in that North Carolina is a complete team with multiple players who can step up. If Jackson and/or Berry are off, like they were against Arkansas in the second round, other players like Meeks, Hicks, and Maye rise to the occasion.
Of course, we can’t overlook the experience of this team either. North Carolina is led by juniors and seniors who played on last year’s runner-up squad. A narrow 77-74 championship loss to Villanova has fueled Roy Williams’ team all season.
Assuming UNC can contain Kentucky, their upperclassmen will push this team another step further towards a title.
As for betting, UNC is 7-3-1 ATS in their last 11 contests.
Final Thoughts on Kentucky vs UNC
This is a true wildcard game due to the Wildcats’ three freshman. As Fox and Monk showed in the Sweet Sixteen, they’re capable of great things when hitting shots. Adebayo is also capable of big games – both from a rebounding/shot-blocking and scoring perspective.
North Carolina, on the other hand, is a known quantity. We know that they’re going to play with poise and look for good shots. Furthermore, they’re a deeper team than the Wildcats. While we can see Fox, Monk, and/or Adebayo getting hot and propelling Kentucky to the win, the safe money is on North Carolina covering -2.5.
Final Score Prediction: North Carolina wins 82-77