The North Carolina Tar Heels lost the 2016 championship game by 3 points to Villanova last year. The sting of this loss has motivated them to an ACC title and the 2017 tournament’s top overall seed. But they won’t be happy until they get complete redemption in the form of a title.
All has gone according to plan so far for UNC, with a 103-64 victory over 16-seed Texas Southern, and a 72-65 win against 8-seed Arkansas. The latter was a nice test for the Tar Heels as they gear up for an even bigger challenge in Butler.
Speaking of the Bulldogs, they closed their regular season and conference tournament on a sour note, losing to both Seton Hall and Xavier (Big East tournament). Despite these losses, Butler did enough to attain a No. 4 seed, largely thanks to two victories over Villanova during the Big East conference schedule.
They’ve put their seeding to good use, knocking off 13-seed Winthrop by a score of 76-64, and 12-seed Middle Tennessee by a tally of 74-65. Are these tune-up games enough for the ultimate challenge in UNC? Let’s find out by discussing how both teams will fare in this Sweet Sixteen contest.
Butler (25-8) vs. UNC (29-7); Friday (Mar 24 @ 7:05pm)
GTBets.eu Betting Line: UNC -7.5 (-110); Butler +7.5 (-110)
Why the Bulldogs will Cover the Spread
Ever since Brad Stevens turned this program into a giant killer in the mid-2000s, Butler has continued to notch quality wins over the years. 2017 was no different since they earned nine wins over tournament teams, including Villanova (twice) and Arizona.
But there were also a couple of puzzling losses to Indiana State and St. John’s. Given the opponent, we don’t expect an empty performance from Butler on Friday night.
North Carolina and the Bulldogs have some familiarity with each since Butler has upset the Tar Heels twice in the past five years. It’s not unfathomable to think that they can do it again, although this is a tougher UNC squad than the ones that were beaten before.
One thing that Butler has going for them is experience, with most of their rotation players being juniors and seniors. Junior forward Kelan Martin leads the team with 16.0 PPG and 5.8 RPG. Senior forward Andrew Chrabascz (11.1 PPG) is another important cog for the Bulldogs. Other contributors include freshman G Kamar Baldwin (10.0 PPG), senior G Avery Woodson (8.9 PPG), and senior G Kevan Savage (8.0 PPG).
Butler is a smart, disciplined team that can beat anybody in the country when at their peak. And if they bring their A-game, it’s possible that they’ll upset the Tar Heels once again.
One big reason to wager on the Bulldogs is that they’re 7-1 against the spread (ATS) in their last eight contests as an underdog.
Why the Tar Heels will Cover the Spread
North Carolina emerged from the nation’s toughest conference with a championship, thus setting them up to be March Madness favorites.
The one unsettling thing about UNC is that they blew a 17-point, first-half lead against the Razorbacks. North Carolina came back for the victory, which could serve as the scare they need to stay focused.
Team stars Joel Berry and Justin Jackson struggled in this contest, making just 2-of-13 and 5-of-14 shots respectively. But Kennedy Meeks came up big, hitting 7-of-13 shots, grabbing 11 rebounds, and blocking 3 shots. The bench also shot well, nailing a combined 7-of-11 field goal attempts.
This represents one of the biggest problems in trying to contain UNC because they have too much talent. If Jackson or Berry aren’t on, then other players like Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, Tony Bradley and Luke Maye can step up when needed.
Another issue Butler needs to worry about is the Tar Heels’ size. Few match up well with this team, which, thanks to Jackson’s versatility, starts four forwards and plays two more in the rotation.
From a betting perspective, UNC seems like the safe bet here because they’re 5-1-1 ATS when favored by seven points or more.
Final Thoughts on Butler vs. UNC Betting
This is a tough game to call because both North Carolina and Butler have been on fire regarding the spread. As mentioned before, the Bulldogs are 7-1 ATS as an underdog recently, while the Tar Heels have gone 5-1-1 ATS as a favorite of -7 or better. Their lone loss was the 72-65 win over Arkansas, where they failed to cover -11.5.
As stated before, we believe North Carolina will cut down the nets in Phoenix, thus avenging their loss last year. But can they defeat Butler by 8 points or more? Normally we’d say no, but given how close the last game was, we expect the Tar Heels to come out on fire.
Final Score Prediction: UNC wins 79-68