Louisville (22-5, 10-4) at North Carolina (23-5, 11-3)
When: Wednesday, February 22nd 2017
Where: Dean Smith Center, Chapel Hill, NC
Time: 9:00 ET | TV: ESPN
The North Carolina Tar Heels look to maintain their lead in the ACC when they host the second-place Louisville Cardinals on Wednesday night in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels are a game ahead of both Duke and Louisville and have won four of their last five overall including a 65-41 victory over Virginia on Saturday. North Carolina’s offense averages 86.9 points per game (6th in nation) and the best rebounding margin in the country as well at +13.4. The Tar Heels have four players averaging at least 12 points a contest and four of their top six scorers shoot at least 52% from the field. Junior shooting guard Justin Jackson (18.6) leads the way and fellow guard Joel Berry II (14.6 points, team-best 4.0 assists) is next despite a 2-of-9 shooting performance against Virginia. Kennedy Meeks is 14-of-22 from the field in the last two games and averages 12.6 points and a team-best 9.1 rebounds overall while senior forward Isaiah Hicks (12.5) has nailed eight of his last 11 shots from the floor over the last two games. The Tar Heels lead the series 11-5, but Louisville won last season’s lone meeting 71-65 at home.
If Louisville wants to win the regular season ACC title, they’ll have to pull the upset tonight, because they’re running out of time. This will be the Cardinals toughest remaining contest as they’ll be favored in their final three games. Louisville has won three straight games and six of seven overall, including Saturday’s 94-90 victory over Virginia Tech at home despite allowing the Hokies to shoot almost 60% from the field – way above its average of 39.4, which was 14th in the nation entering Tuesday. Sophomore guard Donovan Mitchell continues to lead the team in scoring and in overall play while averaging 21.7 points over the last seven games to push his season mark to 15.6. Junior point guard Quentin Snider, who leads the team in assists (4.1), has also seen his scoring average spike with 15.3 points per game (12.5 overall) over the last three since returning from injury. Sophomore forward Deng Adel (11.3) is the only other player averaging in double figures scoring, but junior forward Jaylen Johnson (team-high 6.4 rebounds) is averaging 12.0 in the last three games.
Louisville definitely has the talent to stay with North Carolina throughout this game and have been playing well on the road lately. The Tar Heels should win this contest, but I think it comes down to the final minutes. North Carolina is not a very good free throw shooting team (69.9%) and that could come into play when they’re trying to put the game away.
Pick: Louisville +6
HEAD TO HEAD
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