College Basketball Betting: UNC at Duke

College Basketball Betting: UNC at Duke

All due respect to the other heated rivalries in college hoops, but nothing comes close to matching the intensity of North Carolina-Duke. These two ACC powers have been exchanging jabs since Coach K was a neophyte on Tobacco Road and the late great Dean Smith reigned supreme over the coaching landscape. The first of two meetings in the 2014-15 season takes place at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Wednesday night. The Tar Heels enter the fray reeling from three losses in four games, although two of those came to Top 10 opponents Louisville and Virginia. Duke, on the other hand, has won five in a row with victories against Virginia and Notre Dame among the quintet. Toss out stats, records, and style points, because both teams only care about beating the other at any cost. Here’s a preview and prediction for round one of North Carolina-Duke.

NORTH CAROLINA AT DUKE -8.5

The Tar Heels rank second in rebounding and first in assists in the country, meaning they are fundamental and unselfish. No team excels at breaking down Duke’s signature man-to-man defense with backdoor cuts and lobs over the top quite like UNC. Point guard Marcus Paige has struggled in previous meetings with Duke, but he did drop 24 in last year’s trip to Durham. Paige suffered through one of his worst outings of the season on Saturday when he went 1-7 from three-point range at Pitt. He’ll have to be sharp on both sides of the ball in this one or the Heels could be in for a long night. Attacking inside with Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks will be critical; both have the size and athleticism to challenge freshman phenom Jahlil Okafor. Neither team enjoys playing defense, so expect a track meet, which would favor Duke.

Okafor is a legit frontrunner for Player of the Year, but it’s contributions from fellow freshman Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones that makes these Devils dangerous. However, the unsung hero on the roster and the player who truly fuels the engine is senior guard Quinn Cook. He’s their most lethal three-point sniper and go-to option in the clutch. Jones’ ability to play the point effectively has afforded Coach K the luxury of sliding Cook to two-guard, which has helped offset the dismissal of junior Rasheed Sulaimon. Like most Duke squads, they shoot at a high percentage and are more comfortable playing up-tempo. But relying on three freshman can be problematic, especially with so few reliable options on the bench. The Devils have an advantage in the post, but their smallish backcourt could have issues with UNC swingman Justin Jackson.

A Duke blowout is certainly possible, but 8.5 points is a questionable number. The Devils have won four of the last five in the series on Coach K court, and are 8-6-1 ATS this season at home. UNC is 12-11-1 ATS overall and 6-4 ATS on the road. Visitors keep the margin respectable.

Bet North Carolina +8.5