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NY Post
New York Post
24 Feb 2024

NextImg:North Carolina vs. Virginia, Villanova vs. UConn picks: College hoops odds

It’s become best practice to avoid playing top-10 favorites this season.

Highly ranked teams have been dropping like flies, particularly on the road.

But there’s still value in backing the blue bloods, especially when they’re facing opponents with shaky offensive résumés.

We have two such games on Saturday where this applies.

The line (UNC -3) is paying respect to Tony Bennett.

Even with the John Paul Jones Arena factor baked in, my power rankings call for UNC to lay 5.5 points in this game.

The main reason for that is Virginia’s woeful performance on the offensive end.

This is arguably Bennett’s worst collection of shooters in his 18 years as a head coach.

The Cavaliers currently rank 278th in shooting efficiency and a puzzling 352nd from the foul line (64.2 percent).

When you pair their inconsistency from the floor with their preferred pace, which is the slowest in the country, you get an offense that struggles to break 60 points on a nightly basis.

Teams such as IUPUI, Chicago State, Florida A&M and Tennessee Tech all find ways to score more per game than Virginia.

Now, the Wahoos compensate for their offensive shortcomings by playing tremendous team basketball on the defensive end.

Bennett’s famed “Pack Line” defense continues to be effective, evidenced by a 49-47 win over Wake Forest last Saturday.

But North Carolina has the perimeter shooting (35.6 percent on 3-pointers) and front-court size to hurt UVA on the glass (10.6 offensive rebounds, 40th).

Virginia has been burned by the three-ball repeatedly this season.

Pitt knocked down 14 3-pointers while upsetting UVA at home just last week and opponents averaged 10 triples in the Cavaliers’ other six losses this season.

RJ Davis #4 of the North Carolina Tar Heels dribbles the ball during a game against the Clemson Tigers.
RJ Davis #4 of the North Carolina Tar Heels dribbles the ball during a game against the Clemson Tigers. Getty Images

Even if North Carolina doesn’t catch fire from long range, Virginia’s offense can’t be trusted to take advantage.

The Cavaliers have been plagued by long droughts in recent weeks including their nine-minute, first-half scoreless streak against Virginia Tech.

This explains how Virginia has surrendered 10 “Kill Shot” runs (10-0 or worse) this season.

Only one other KenPom top-10 defense has given up more runs (Rutgers).

Finally, I’m confident RJ Davis is due for a bounce-back.

The leading scorer in the ACC is shooting just 38 percent from the field in his past six games.

But even during his mini-slump, he’s still been lethal from deep, sticking right on his season average of 41 percent from behind the arc.

He’ll carry the offensive load and help secure a critical victory for the Tar Heels as they enter the stretch run of the ACC title race.

Recommendation: UNC -3.

If you were intrigued by the idea of fading Virginia at home, may I suggest fading a toothless Villanova offense on the road?

The Wildcats can’t shoot (42.7 field goal percentage, 256th), force turnovers (256th) or generate second-chance opportunities on the glass (7.7 offensive rebounds, 266th).

And after nearly upsetting UConn in South Philly last month, they will have the defending national champions’ full attention.

Villanova has been blasted on the road, losing recent contests to St. John’s by 20 and Marquette by 13.

The Huskies, meanwhile, are fire-breathers at home, annihilating teams such as Marquette, Xavier and Creighton by double digits.

Given Dan Hurley’s pointed and brutally honest postgame criticism of his staff and his players after Tuesday night’s 19-point loss at Creighton, I anticipate a masterclass from UConn at Gampel Pavilion on Saturday.

Recommendation: UConn -11.