College Basketball Odds & Picks for North Carolina vs. Kentucky: Why to Back the Cats

College Basketball Odds & Picks for North Carolina vs. Kentucky: Why to Back the Cats article feature image

Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images. Pictured: Hubert Davis

  • North Carolina and Kentucky will face off on Saturday after COVID-19 protocols ruined their original matchups
  • The Tar Heels have struggled on defense, while the Wildcats are coming off a loss on the road to Notre Dame.
  • Doug Ziefel breaks down the matchup and offers up his pick.

North Carolina vs. Kentucky Odds

Saturday, Dec. 18
5:30 p.m. ET
North Carolina Odds
-114o / -106u
Kentucky Odds
-114o / -106u
Odds via FanDuel. Get up-to-the-minute college basketball odds here.

Christmas has come early for college basketball fans and bettors alike!

After each team's originally scheduled opponents were forced to withdraw due to COVID-19 protocols, North Carolina and Kentucky have decided to match up against one another.

The North Carolina Tar Heels enter this one in the midst of a five-game winning streak. Their streak stemmed off of back-to-back losses in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Challenge, where they were out-gunned by Purdue and Tennessee.

The Tar Heels responded incredibly well against their ensuing top-25 opponent, though, as they rolled over the Michigan Wolverines.

It will be interesting to see which Tar Heel team we get in this matchup.

John Calipari and his Wildcats are coming off their second loss of the season, as they were upset by the Fighting Irish in South Bend. It was a game where their offense struggled mightily and they could not pull away.

Eventually, after letting Notre Dame hang around too long, the Wildcats went cold and the Fighting Irish pulled ahead in the final minutes.

Coach Calipari mentioned in his post-game press conference how concerned the players — along with the entire Kentucky program — were about the tragic natural disasters that were taking place at the time.

It will be a full week since that game, but how the Kentucky team will play still remains to be seen. Will the Wildcats be inspired enough to top the Tar Heels?

North Carolina Tar Heels

Can Tar Heels Stay Hot From Deep?

It is no secret as to how North Carolina plans to attack defenses. They are the seventh-best 3-point shooting team in the country, as they have made almost 41% of their attempts as a team.

The majority of those makes have come from their leading scorer Caleb Love. The sophomore two-guard is the go-to guy for this Tar Heels offense. Love has proven he can carry the team on multiple occasions as his spurts of hot shooting can take over a game.

He also showed that he can play above the rim in their most recent game. Check out the quick hands here that lead to the highlight reel jam:

While Love represents much of the perimeter game the Tar Heels can bring, they also have the bodies to bang down low.

North Carolina's paint is ruled by Armando Bacot. The 6-foot-10 240-pound junior is an imposing presence on the low block. He is nearly averaging a double-double this season, posting 14 points and 9.8 rebounds per game.

Bacot will be a positional showdown, as the Wildcats have a dominant big man, as well. The duel between the two will be fun to watch.

How the Tar Heels choose to attack the Wildcats could set the tone early in this game. The paint may be neutralized as Kentucky's Oscar Tshiebwe will make it tough for Bacot to be impactful.

On the outside, Kentucky has been one of the better teams at defending the 3, holding opponents to only 29.7% from long range. They could steal from the Irish, as they were successful with the pick-and-roll, which drew Tshiebwe out of the paint.

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Kentucky Wildcats

Look for Wildcats to Feed Their Big Man

Tshiebwe has been a man amongst boys so far this season. He is averaging 16 points and 14 rebounds per game. He has scored 20 points or more in his last three games and will look to extend that streak.

It is clear that Calipari has found his man, as Tshiebwe has made the Wildcats the No. 1 offensive rebounding team in the country. If you have not seen him, enjoy the performance he put on against Mount St. Mary's below:

Kentucky big Oscar Tshiebwe dominated in the paint tonight.

24 points
16 rebounds

Tshiebwe is averaging 18.3 points and 18.6 boards per game so far this season 😳

— B/R Hoops (@brhoops) November 17, 2021

It was shown that Tshiebwe can't be the only source of offense, as was the case against Notre Dame. The Wildcats' loss is directly linked to their poor outside shooting. They were 2-of-19 from 3 and have been one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the nation, ranking 272nd entering this matchup.

The numbers are a bit shocking and some positive regression is to be expected, as proven players like Kellan Grady and TyTy Washington Jr. have shown the ability to drain the deep ball.

This may be the matchup we see the Wildcats get right on the offensive end, as North Carolina has been a very average defensive team. The Tar Heels are also near dead last in defensive turnover rate, so as long as Kentucky can stay out of its own way, it should be able to string together good offensive possessions.

North Carolina vs. Kentucky Betting Pick

The rearrangement from COVID cancellations may have created some disarray, but in reality, the schedule for the teams is exactly the same. The difference is less time to prepare for a new opponent. This could help the offenses early on.

These two teams are very even and this game could very well come down to the last possession.

In the end, I am giving the slight edge to the Wildcats, as they are the better defensive team and will have the edge on the inside. Kentucky also had three more days of rest and preparation since it last played. I expect the kinks to be ironed out.

Pick: Kentucky -3 or better

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