Brice Johnson does not lead North Carolina in any major categories, but
he just might be the team’s most important player. Coming off
back-to-back terrific outings, Johnson hopes to fuel the 15th-ranked Tar
Heels past visiting Syracuse when the teams square off Monday. Johnson
scored 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting against Wake Forest on Wednesday
before recording 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting versus Florida State on
Saturday, prompting rave reviews from leading scorer Marcus Paige.
played great. … That’s the type of production – we’ll take that all
day,” Paige said. “He’s still coming along defensively. He’s better than
he’s ever been. So he’s getting there, but his ceiling his so high,
too, that we like to see him build on performances.” The Tar Heels have
won 10 of their last 11 games, while the Orange have dropped two of
three following a seven-game winning streak. Both teams are dealing with
injuries as Syracuse is without forward Chris McCullough (ACL) while
North Carolina is without reserves Joel Berry (groin) and Theo Pinson
(foot), not to mention Johnson playing through a back strain.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
WHAT BOOKS SAY: “The Tar Heels have been winning, but they’ve been a good fade over the last few weeks amid the myriad injuries. You have to wonder if they’re due for an upset with the depth lacking and starters logging a lot of minutes. The Orange haven’t been cashing of late either and they’ve had a pretty soft schedule. It’s a Boeheim team that really lacks any offensive punch. They might be able to stay within the number Monday, but they’re going to have to play a polished game from start to finish.” John Lester, senior lines manager for bookmaker.eu.
ABOUT SYRACUSE (14-6, 5-2 ACC): Despite 23 points and eight
rebounds from Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse dropped a 66-62 decision to
Miami (Fla.) on Saturday as the team shot 8-of-19 from the foul line.
“You can ask a million questions,” coach Jim Boeheim said to reporters
afterwards. “Overall, this game was one thing, that’s it, nothing else.
We make some free throws, we win the game, bottom line.” The shorthanded
Orange used only six players – four of which played all 40 minutes –
including all three of their double-digit scorers on the season –
Christmas (18.3), Trevor Cooney (14.1) and Michael Gbinije (10.7).
ABOUT NORTH CAROLINA (16-4, 6-1):
The Tar Heels rank in the top five nationally in both rebounds and
assists with J.P. Tokoto serving as a major factor in both categories.
The junior forward averages 9.1 points, five rebounds and a team-high
4.1 assists, while four other North Carolina players average double
figures in points, led by Paige’s 13.8. Kennedy Meeks is second on the
team in scoring (12.8) and tops in rebounding (8.3), although he only
has surpassed eight rebounds once in his last six games.
* The Orange are 0-4 ATS in their last four overall
* The Tar Heels are 1-5 ATS in their last six overall
* The Over is 4-1 in the Tar Heels’ last five games
* The Over is 5-1-1 in the Orange’s last seven after a SU loss