North Carolina Tar Heels (15-9, 9-6) NET: 44
North Carolina (UNC) has made the NCAA Tournament in nine straight seasons, last failing to do so in 2010. UNC has been named a No. 1 or 2 seed in four consecutive seasons, a top seed in three. The Tar Heels lost in the Sweet 16 of the 2019 Tournament as a No. 1 seed and won the National Championship in 2016, the last year they won the ACC.
This season, UNC is not the same Roy Williams' coached team we are used to seeing. The Tar Heels are 15-9 on the year and 9-6 in the conference, sitting seventh after the two-point loss at Syracuse (3/1). UNC was tied with Georgia Tech in the standings, but their win over Duke boosted them to sixth. Duke is one game back on North Carolina, with a final meeting versus each other.
UNC's remaining schedule is a home date with Duke (3/6) and that will likely determine both squads' ACC seeding and impact their NCAA resume. The Tar Heels resume is loaded with Quad 2, 3 and 4 wins, but UNC has lost repeatedly when it comes to top-tier competition in Quad 1.
QUAD 1: 2-7
QUAD 2: 5-1
QUAD 3: 5-1
QUAD 4: 3-0
BEST WINS: Duke (91-87 Away), Kentucky (75-63 Neutral), Stanford (67-63 Neutral)
WORST LOSSES: NC State (79-76 Away), Georgia Tech (72-67 Away), Syracuse (72-70 Away)
The previous loss to Syracuse stung as the Orange arguably have a hand over the Tar Heels if the selection committee has to choose between the two. They split the season series 1-1, but a clean sweep would have significantly help UNC.
The ACC Tournament still has to be played and Syracuse has a date with Clemson (3/3), while Georgia Tech travels to Wake Forest (3/5) and Louisville hosts Virginia (3/6). A lot will happen before we know what Duke and UNC will need to do when they meet.
UNC beat Louisville this season and Louisville beat Duke, which helps the Tar Heels. They will have to root for Louisville to have an early exit in the tournament and a loss to Virginia. UNC lost to Georgia Tech, Syracuse, Clemson and NC State, which could severely hurt their NCAA Tournament chances the next two weeks if those teams do well.
In the ACC, UNC ranks third in adjusted defensive efficiency (99.4), second in two-point defense percentage (47.4%). The Tar Heels defense ranks 20th in the country for adjusted defensive efficiency (91.3) overall.
Offensively, UNC ranks first in tempo (71.0) and the average length of possession (16.0) in the ACC. The Tar Heels are 46th in tempo (71.9) and 25th in possession length (15.7) for national ranks. That can both be good and bad when playing quality opponents. UNC has struggled offensively, and versus a team that can light it up from outside, the Tar Heels may not last long.
UNC's downfall is the three-point shooting. UNC is shooting 30.4% from three (302nd) on the season and that will not cut it. On the other end, they allow 35.1% (251st), which does not help. They are a poor shooting team all-around, falling under the NCAA average of 49.9% from two-point range with 48.9% (208th).
UNC will need some help to get in the big dance, but a date with Duke and the ACC Tournament around the corner will provide the Tar Heels a chance to prove they belong. UNC has won at least one game in the conference tournament for six straight seasons, dating back to 2015. They will have to replicate that success this season.
A first-round exit would be the nail in the coffin for a UNC squad but an 8-8 Quad 1 and 2 record should get them into the big dance. I think UNC gets the nod as of now, but they have to avoid an upset in the conference tourney to stay in. UNC has won at least one ACC Tournament game in six straight seasons, last losing the opening game in 2014. UNC is 7-2 SU (77.7%) versus teams below them in the ACC standings and 2-4 SU (33.3%) against teams above them this season.
Betting Odds as of 3/4:
PointsBet labels UNC +500 (3rd best) to win the ACC Tournament and +8000 to win the NCAA Championship.
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Duke Blue Devils (11-10, 9-8) NET: 57
Duke won four straight games before losing the last two in OT, hurting their chances of making the NCAA Tournament. The Blue Devils season was looking up but now a Saturday meeting with North Carolina will determine a lot.
Right now, Duke needs more Quad 1, 2 and 3 wins. Their season has been defined by earning upset wins and being upset, which is usually not the remedy for success. Duke has gone on separate three-game losing streaks this season and as they face UNC (3/6) on a two-game losing streak, a loss here would be a nail in the coffin for the Blue Devils' season.
QUAD 1: 1-4
QUAD 2: 5-4
QUAD 3: 2-2
QUAD 4: 3-0
BEST WINS: Virginia (66-65 Home), Clemson (79-53 Home)
WORST LOSSES: Miami (77-75), Pitt (79-73)
Duke has had some embarrassing losses this year, but once Jalen Johnson left the program, the Blue Devils won three of the following four games. In three of the last four games with Johnson, Duke allowed 77, 91 and 93 points. Recently, the Blue Devils defense allowed 71 points or fewer in six straight games (regulation only).
The last two games, both losses, went to OT (Louisville and Georgia Tech), so their stats are a little inflated. However, Duke has been a better team without Johnson, despite being 4-3 SU (57.1%) since he left.
Duke still cannot defend the three and that has been their main issue this season. They have looked better lately, limiting three straight opponents to 33.3% of less. The Blue Devils allow opponents to hit 36.8% from deep (307th) and 37.7% in the ACC (13th).
Opponents average a 52.8% effective field goal percentage in conference play (12th) and 52.0% versus all opponents (250th). The Blue Devils also hit free throws at a low rate, 69.3% for the season (223rd), making late-game situations nail-biters -- like the past two.
However, they shot well in the clutch the past two games despite losing. Duke went 3-of-5 (60%) from the line in the final 4:23 versus Georgia Tech and 8-of-11 (72.7%) in the last 4:18 versus Louisville.
I wrote about Duke needing to beat Georgia Tech earlier in the week and with that loss, I am out on the Blue Devils getting in the tournament. They will have to beat North Carolina and/or win two-plus games in the ACC Tournament, both of which are underdog situations.
Duke is 5-3 SU (62.5%) against teams ranked below them in the ACC standings as of now, a good sign for a first round victory. Versus teams above them in the leagues standings, Duke is 4-5 SU (44.4%), so a deep ACC run does not look likely.
Betting Odds as of 3/4:
Duke +1200 to win the ACC on PointsBet (6th best) and +10000 to win the National Championship.