North Carolina vs. Baylor Odds & Picks: Your Betting Guide for Saturday’s NCAA Tournament Matchup
Lance King/Getty Images. Pictured: Armando Bacot (5) and RJ Davis (4).
North Carolina vs. Baylor Odds
|North Carolina Odds|
-110o / -110u
-110o / -110u
Baylor set multiple school records in its opening game of the NCAA Tournament, including most assists and largest margin of victory in a tournament game.
The Bears’ reward for taking care of business on Thursday is a liquid-hot North Carolina team that has won seven of its last eight and beat its first-round opponent by 32 points.
The tournament has not exactly laid a cakewalk path to the Sweet 16 for Scott Drew and the reigning champs. As the Bears shuffle their lineup due to late-season injuries, North Carolina will have its eyes on an upset.
The television execs liked this game enough to give it the solo spot to kick off the day. Will the Bears and Heels answer the call and deliver a great game?
All season long, Armando Bacot has been the foundation of this Tar Heel team. As his teammates struggled to find their roles, Bacot just put on his hard hat and led the way in the paint.
He ranks in the top 35 of rebounding rate on both the offensive and defensive sides of the floor, constantly earning the Heels extra possessions and easy looks at the basket. Those extra opportunities buoyed Carolina while Hubert Davis found his footing as a first-year head coach and the sophomores in the Tar Heel backcourt acclimated to increased roles.
In the last month, those sophomores, RJ Davis and Caleb Love, have not played their best, yet they’ve been effective enough to create opportunities for teammates.
Love remains an inefficient scorer, but his aggressiveness has opened up the Heels offense. He has scored in double figures in 10 straight games, averaging 4.0 assists in that span.
Davis is just seven for his last 33 from the field, but was the best player on the floor in Carolina’s wins over Duke and Syracuse to end the regular season.
The real game-changer has been fifth-year senior Brady Manek. The Oklahoma transfer is a matchup nightmare when he picks and pops. In games prior to February, he scored 12.8 points per game with 36.7% 3-point shooting. Since Feb. 1, he’s scoring 17.8 points per game on 41.8% 3-point shooting. He sparked the Heels’ blowout in the first round, dropping 28 points with five triples.
Baylor’s ability to reach the Final Four for the second consecutive season hinges on the Bears’ ability to withstand two injuries suffered this season.
LJ Cryer was a pivotal cog in the Baylor backcourt but hasn’t played since Feb. 16 with a foot injury. That places a much bigger weight on James Akinjo and Adam Flagler, both of whom are plenty capable. But Baylor’s guard depth becomes incredibly thin after that pair.
The same is true on the interior after the Bears lost high-energy center Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua to a season-ending injury. He brought a kick of attitude to the Baylor defense and was always active on the glass. His contributions will need to be filled by new starter Flo Thamba, yet Baylor again gets thin after that.
Drew stuck to an eight-man rotation early in the year but is now depleted to just six reliable players.
The good news comes in the development of freshman forward Jeremy Sochan. The springy youngster gives Drew a Swiss Army knife to play with in his lineups.
He can play as a small-ball center or guard on the perimeter, creating mismatches for Baylor to exploit. Sochan is scoring 12 points per game, up from just eight points per game prior to Cryer’s injury.
North Carolina vs. Baylor Betting Pick
The Tar Heels dominated the interior against Marquette and will need to do so again here to remain competitive against the top-seeded Bears.
Thamba and Sochan both have their strengths, yet they will have their hands full wrestling with Bacot. The Baylor defense hasn’t been superb on the glass, ranking 211th nationally and seventh in the Big 12 in grabbing opponent misses.
The referees could play a major role in the game, determining how physical the Baylor bigs can be in their quest to limit Bacot’s impact on the game. If Drew has to get cute with his lineups as the Bears battle foul trouble, Bacot stands to benefit.
On the perimeter, fans should be treated to a back-and-forth battle between Baylor’s guards and the Tar Heel backcourt. Flagler and Akinjo are more experienced and more accomplished players than Love and Davis, yet the Heels’ guards are more athletic and have a size advantage.
I expect Bacot to leave a major footprint on the flow and style of this game, mostly counteracting Baylor’s advantages elsewhere on the court.
With a tight turnaround from Thursday’s action, I favor the depth of the Tar Heels and will take my chances with the points.
Pick: North Carolina +5.5
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