North Carolina is the last No. 1 seed left standing in the 2016 NCAA Tournament. Syracuse in the first No. 10 seed to ever advance to the Final Four, getting to Houston after losing five of its last six games that had it extremely anxious on Selection Sunday.
When the ‘Cuse’s name appeared on the board, CBS Sports’s Doug Gottlieb immediately exclaimed, “What?!”
Nevertheless, Jim Boeheim has his program in its fifth Final Four of his 40-year tenure, seeking a second national title. The Orange beat Roy Williams’s Kansas team to cut down the nets in the 2003 NCAA Finals.
Williams is in his eighth Final Four and is hoping to bag a third national title, which would elevate him into elite company. The only coaches with three or more national titles are John Wooden, Adolph Rupp, Mike Krzyzewski, Bobby Knight and Jim Calhoun.
The Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas opened North Carolina (32-6 straight up, 19-18 against the spread) as a 9.5-point favorite with a total of 146.5 points. The number for the side briefly went down to nine but was back to 9.5 as of early Friday night. The total has been reduced to 145.
Gamblers can take the Orange to win outright for a monster +425 payout (risk $100 to win $425). For first-half wagers, UNC is a 5.5-point ‘chalk’ with a total of 67.
Most betting shops have a slew of proposition bets available. For instance, Sportsbook.ag has adjusted lines that offer great value for those that are extremely bullish on a certain side or total.
For instance, if you think UNC is going to win in blowout fashion, you can back the Tar Heels laying 14.5 points for a +200 return (risk $100 to win $200). On the flips side, for bettors liking the ‘Cuse, it can be had at +4.5 for a +215 payout (risk $100 to win $215).
North Carolina advanced to the national semifinals with victories over Florida Gulf Coast (83-67), Providence (85-66), Indiana (101-86) and Notre Dame (88-74). The Tar Heels have won nine consecutive games, going 7-2 ATS, and haven’t tasted defeat since a 79-74 loss at Virginia on Feb. 27.
UNC has covered the number in three straight, including the win over the Fighting Irish as a 9.5-point favorite in the East Region finals at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia this past Sunday. The 162 combined points jumped ‘over’ the 153.5-point total.
Brice Johnson was the catalyst, scoring 25 points and pulling down 12 rebounds. All five UNC starters were in double figures, including Joel Berry II, who had 11 points and eight assists without committing a turnover.
Kennedy Meeks scored eight straight points early in the second half to stretch UNC’s five-point halftime lead to an 11-point cushion. However. Notre Dame responded with a 12-0 run to roar back into the lead.
It wouldn’t last, though, as UNC went on a 12-0 run of its own and was back ahead by double digits at the 9:19 mark. The Irish would get no closer than eight the rest of the way.
Johnson has been a monster in the Tournament, posting three straight double-doubles. He’s averaging 22.0 points, 9.8 rebounds and 3.5 blocked shots in the last four games.
Marcus Paige, UNC’s senior point guard who had an inconsistent campaign, has played solid in recent weeks. Paige has scored in double figures in six straight games. He is averaging 14.0 points per game in the Tournament with a 14/4 assists-to-turnovers ratio.
UNC ranks 10th in the nation in scoring (83.0 PPG) and 16th in field-goal percentage (48.2%). However, the Tar Heels are horrible from 3-point land, shooting at just a 32.1 percent clip that ranks them No. 289 in America.
The lack of dependency on 3-pointers is probably a plus, however, especially at this venue where the Texans play football. Depth perception can be an issue is such a huge arena, evidenced by 26.7 percent shooting from downtown in last year’s South Region semifinals and finals.
Syracuse (23-13 SU, 20-15 ATS) had to overcome a 16-point second-half deficit to oust top-seeded Virginia by a 68-62 count as an eight-point underdog in last Sunday’s Midwest Region finals.
Malachi Richardson, a freshman wing, sparked the rally with 23 points, seven rebounds and two steals. Senior forward Michael Gbinije finished with 11 points, six assists, four rebounds and a pair of steals. Tyler Roberson had 10 points and eight rebounds before fouling out, while Trevor Cooney tallied eight points, four steals and three assists without a turnover. Freshman forward Tyler Lydon produced 11 points, six rebounds and five blocked shots.
The Orange had more steals (11) than turnovers (seven), while UVA committed 13 turnovers and had only three steals.
Syracuse has covered the spread in five consecutive games and seven of its last eight. The Orange has been an underdog 15 times this year, compiling a 9-6 spread record with six outright wins.
The ‘Cuse had to rally in its Sweet 16 showdown against Gonzaga as well. The Bulldogs led most of the way, but the Orange captured a 63-60 win as a four-point underdog. They hooked up money-line backers with a +150 payout.
Leading by one in the final seconds, Lydon blocked a Gonzaga shot in the lane. I thought it was a clear foul, but there was no whistle.
Gbinije scored a team-high 20 points for the winners. Cooney scored 15 points and Lydon had six rejections.
Syracuse got through the first weekend with wins over Middle Tennessee (75-50) and Dayton (70-51). The Blue Raiders stunned second-seeded Michigan State in the opening round to bolster the Orange’s path to Chicago and the Sweet 16.
Boeheim’s bunch is 25th in the country in scoring defense (64.6 PPG). They play a vaunted 2-3 zone that usually gives opponents fits.
These schools met twice during the regular season. In the first encounter at the Carrier Dome on Jan. 9, UNC collected an 84-73 win as a 7.5-point road ‘chalk.’ The 157 combined points went ‘over’ the 152.5-point total.
Despite making only 3-of-16 attempts from 3-point range (18.8%) for the game, UNC pulled away in the second half after being tied at intermission. Isaiah Hicks led the way with 21 points and eight rebounds in just 22 minutes of playing time from off the bench. Justin Jackson added 16 points on 8-of-11 shooting from the field, while Johnson finished with 16 points, eight assists, four rebounds and two steals.
Cooney scored a game-high 27 points in the losing effort, while Richardson contributed 16 points, five assists and four boards.
In the rematch at the Dean Dome in Chapel Hill, UNC won a 75-70 decision but the ‘Cuse easily took the money as a 13-point road underdog. The 145 combined points stayed ‘under’ the 146.5-point total.
Johnson led five double-figure scorers with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Gbinije had 17 points and seven assists in defeat.
The ‘over’ is 18-17 overall for the Orange, but the ‘under’ has cashed in three of its last four games. The combined scores in Syracuse’s four NCAA Tournament games have been 121, 125, 123 and 130. The ‘under’ is 7-1 in Syracuse’s eight games that have had totals in the 140s.
The ‘over’ is 20-18 overall for UNC. The ‘over’ is 8-4 in the Tar Heels’ 12 games that had totals in the 140s. The combined scores in UNC’s four NCAA games have been 162, 187, 151 and 150.
This second semifinal game will tip 30 minutes after the conclusion of Oklahoma-Villanova on TBS.