No. 8 North Carolina hosts sixth-ranked Louisville on Wednesday night in an ACC showdown that will likely be decided at the defensive end. The first-place Tar Heels, who lead Louisville by one game, are coming off their best defensive performance statistically in the Roy Williams era while the Cardinals must face the highest scoring team in the league after uncharacteristically surrendering 90 points last time out.
Williams told reporters North Carolina was not as good on defense as Saturday’s 65-41 victory over Virginia might indicate, “but I thought we had a sense of urgency defensively, I thought we tried to do it.” Solid work at that end of the court will be key if the Tar Heels are going to make another run at a national championship with an offense that averages 86.9 points and the best rebounding margin in the country (plus-13.4). Louisville has won three straight contests and six of seven, including Saturday’s 94-90 victory over Virginia Tech at home despite allowing the Hokies to shoot almost 60 percent from the field – way above its average of 39.4, which was 14th in the nation entering Tuesday. “If we don’t start playing better defense,” Cardinals coach Rick Pitino told reporters, “we’re all going to be on vacation early.”
TV: 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
LINE HISTORY: North Carolina opened as 6-point home favorite over the visiting Louisville Cardinals and the total hit the betting board at 153. Check out the complete line history here.
WHAT SHARPS SAY: “Both UNC and Louisville have endured the boomerang qualities of wins and losses in the rugged ACC. With the conference tournament nearing, this is an opportune time for either to leapfrog the other. We’ve seen just how crucial a roadmap to the Final Four can be based on the proper region/seeding in March.” – Covers Expert Zack Cimini.
Louisville – F V.J. King (Probable, thigh), G Tony Hicks (Early March, hand).
North Carolina – G Kenny Williams (Out For Season, knee).
ABOUT LOUISVILLE (22-5 SU, 16-8-1 ATS, 11-13-1 O/U): Sophomore guard Donovan Mitchell continues to lead the way for the Cardinals while averaging 21.7 points over the last seven contests to push his team-leading mark to 15.6. Junior point guard Quentin Snider, who tops the team in assists (4.1), has also been quite productive 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) totaled 36 points total the last three games.
ABOUT NORTH CAROLINA (23-5 SU, 13-12-1 ATS, 10-15-1 O/U): The Tar Heels, who have won four of the last five, boast four players averaging at least 12 points and four of their top six scorers shoot at least 52 percent from the field. Junior shooting guard Justin Jackson (18.6) leads the way and junior point guard Joel Berry II (14.6 points, team-best 4.0 assists) is next after a 2-of-9 shooting performance against Virginia. Kennedy Meeks is 14-of-22 from the field the last two games and averages 12.6 points and a team-best 9.1 rebounds overall while fellow senior forward Isaiah Hicks (12.5) drained 8-of-11 from the floor the past two.
* Cardinals are 1-7-1 ATS in their last 9 games as a road underdog of 0.5-6.5.
* Tar Heels are 5-1 ATS in their last 6 games as a home favorite of 0.5-6.5.
* Over is 5-0 in Cardinals’ last 5 overall.
* Under is 4-0 in Tar Heels’ last 4 home games.
Check out the complete list of hot and cold trends here.
COVERS CONSENSUS: 56 percent of Covers users are siding with the road underdog Louisville Cardinals and as of Wednesday morning there were no selections on the total. Click here for complete consensus data.