#10 Syracuse (23-13) vs #1 North Carolina (32-6)
When: Saturday, April 2nd 2016
Where: NRG Stadium, Houston, TX
Time: 8:49 ET | TV: TBS
The North Carolina Tar Heels are in the Final Four for a record 19th time and they’re one win away from their 10th title game when they take on the upstart Syracuse Orange. North Carolina is currently on a nine-game winning streak that started on February 29th against this same Syracuse team. The Tar Heels only shot 41.2% that game and 6-of-25 from beyond the arc, but pulled out the 75-70 victory to sweep the season series from the Orange. Seniors Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige lead a North Carolina team that is averaging 89.3 points while winning by an average of 16 in the Big Dance so far. Johnson is averaging 21 points, 9.8 boards and shooting 63% from the field in the first four rounds of the tournament while Paige has hit 13-of-27 from 3-point range in the same span. Guard Joel Berry II has committed only four turnovers in the last six games while swingman Justin Jackson, is 6-for-13 from behind the arc in the NCAAs. Johnson, who has a school-record 23 double-doubles this season, is the first Tar Heel to register at least 20 points and 10 rebounds in three consecutive NCAA Tournament games. The Tar Heels, who are 7-4 all time against the Orange including an 84-73 victory at Syracuse in January, have won five NCAA titles and can break the tie for third-most with Duke and Indiana.
The Orange have had a crazy journey to get to this year’s Final Four as a 10-seed. They lost five of their last six regular season games and had to sweat out Selection Sunday. They took care of Dayton in the first round and got the fortune of playing Middle Tennessee State instead of Michigan State in the second round. They easily dispatched Blue Raiders and then used two late-game comebacks to knock off Gonzaga and top-seeded Virginia. The Orange won their lone NCAA title in 2003 and boast a mix of veteran leadership with talented young guys to go along with a Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim. Senior Michael Gbinije tops the team in scoring (17.6) and has hit 91 three-pointers this season. He has also recorded double figures in points in 37 straight games and at least 20 in four of the past six. Freshman Malachi Richardson scored a season high-matching 23 points in the 68-62 Elite Eight victory over Virginia, and fellow freshman Tyler Lydon (10.2 points overall) is also a threat. Senior guard Trevor Cooney is 7-for-13 from 3-point range in the last four games and forward Tyler Roberson is averaging a double-double (10.3 points, 11.8 boards) in the NCAAs.
I’ve been going against Syracuse since round one and I’m going to do it again. I just can’t seem them keeping it close against North Carolina and I can’t see the Tar Heels letting up a big lead like the Zags and Cavaliers did. This is a popular public pick (65%) that I’m going to ride.
Pick: North Carolina -9.5