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Louisville

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North Carolina

College Basketball Pick

2/22/17

There's only been one team at or near the top of the ACC standings all season long and that's North Carolina. Louisville hasn't been far behind, but did start the conference season with two losses. The regular season title would inch closer toward the Tar Heels with a win on Wednesday night, but they still have to travel to Virginia and host Duke. The Cardinals are a game behind, but arguably have an easier road in the following week.

It's the only meeting between these teams this season so playing in Chapel Hill, UNC gets the edge. This game should prove to be an interesting contrast. Louisville is led by a slew of playmaking guards and its pressure defense, while North Carolina has continued to bully teams in the paint with an array of bigs. The Heels absolutely dominated a good Virginia team over the weekend, showing their capabilities. As it stands, they still haven't been fully challenged in home games, especially against high-end competition. And while Louisville has looked good this season, dominant at times, still isn't playing great away from the Yum Center.

Last time on the road, the Cardinals needed overtime to beat Syracuse and lost to Virginia before that, although were down a couple players. Their best road win was likely the 106-51 beat down at Pittsburgh, but this UNC team is miles different. The first question in this matchup is if Louisville can hold its own in the paint.

At the least, the Cardinals have the height, but maybe not the size. Guys like Mangok Mathiang, Anas Mahmoud, Jaylen Johnson and Ray Spalding all are 6-foot-9 or over, but none of them can be considered bulky. The muscle and weight of Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks will be immediate questions for those big guys. Hicks returned in the win over Virginia and he looks good to go, which puts the UNC frontcourt back to health. The injury to Kenny Williams isn't great for the Heels, especially in this game against a pressing team, but Joel Berry and Nate Britt are plenty experienced to deal with the Louisville press. Then again, the same was probably said a year ago when these teams played and UNC turned it over 16 times.

For North Carolina, Justin Jackson has been a difference maker for them against good teams, but Louisville has the likes of Deng Adel and VJ King to deal with the length of Jackson. King missed the last game, but should return with a thigh bruise for this one. The main thing for Louisville will be keeping up on the scoreboard. The Cardinals are known for going long periods of time with offensive struggles, but that hasn't really affected them as much this season.

The main reason for some of that success is the consistency of Donovan Mitchell, who's scoring close to 20 points every night. And with Quentin Snider back in the lineup, the Cards also got back their point guard that is also one of the team's best shooters. The Heels don't do anything particularly well defensively outside of rebounding, but that may be all they need to do. If Louisville has any trouble shooting the ball, that defensive rebounding will come in huge against a team that loves to crash the offensive glass.

Betting against North Carolina at home usually isn't a smart thing to do especially coming off that dominant Virginia win. But Louisville could give UNC enough problems that it can make this a contest most of the way with Mitchell and Snider scoring. To have a chance at an upset, Louisville's bigs will need to hold their ground against the likes of Meeks and Hicks. Otherwise, the Heels will get another big home win and come closer at a chance for a 1-seed in the NCAA tournament.

Our Pick - North Carolina by 2

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