LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (22-5)
at NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS (23-5)
Dean E. Smith Center – Chapel Hill, NC
Tip-off: Wednesday, 9:00pm ET
Line: UNC -4.5
#8 North Carolina and #7 Louisville battle for ACC supremacy when the Tar Heels host the Cardinals on Wednesday night.
The Tar Heels and Cardinals will face off on Wednesday night in Chapel Hill, in the only meeting this season between North Carolina and Louisville. The Cardinals (17-8 ATS) have won 10 of their last 12 games and won the sole meeting between these two teams last season (71-65, LOU -1.5). Coach Roy Williams’ Tar Heels (14-13 ATS) come off an impressive week, blowing out both NC State (97-73, UNC -11) and #18 Virginia (65-41, UNC -6). Undefeated at home (13-0, 9-3 ATS), North Carolina’s sole remaining home game (besides Wednesday night) is the regular season finale against #10 Duke. Coach Rick Pitino’s Cardinals are 5-3 (5-2 ATS) on the road this season, with all three road losses coming in ACC conference play (at Notre Dame, at Florida State, at Virginia). The Over is 5-2 in Louisville road games, while the Under is 9-3 in North Carolina home games (for a total trends to watch). Louisville has had a tough time with their last two opponents, barely outlasting unranked Syracuse (76-72, LOU -3) in overtime on the road, and then withstanding a furious effort by Virginia Tech (94-90, LOU -13) to defend the KFC Yum! Center on Saturday night. 90 points is a season-high allowed for Coach Pitino’s club. With a win here, Louisville (10-4 ACC) would vault into first place ahead of 11-4 North Carolina in the conference, and has home games remaining in two of their last three. However, Louisville is 0-3 (1-2 ATS) as a road underdog this season. Historically, North Carolina is 6-3 (3-6 ATS) in their last nine meetings against Louisville. The last time these two teams met in Chapel Hill (Jan. 10, 2015), North Carolina was a 72-71 winner (UNC -3) on a game-winning layup with eight seconds left from now-graduated Marcus Paige. The Cardinals have lost both of their chances (1998, 2015) to win in the Dean Dome, but are 2-0 ATS). The Over had been 6-0 in this series from Dec. ’97 until Jan. ’15, but the total has been Under in the past three meetings between the Tar Heels and Cardinals. Injury wise, starting sophomore G Kenny Williams (6.2 PPG, 23.7 MPG) is out for the season after suffering a knee injury in last Wednesday’s win over NC State. Louisville freshman F V.J. King (6.7 PPG, 45.7% 3PT) is probable for Wednesday’s game with a thigh bruise after missing Saturday’s game against Virginia Tech. King scored a season-high 24 points in a Feb. 6 road win over Virginia.
Coach Pitino’s rotation has been compromised as of late due to the absence of the aforementioned King and senior G Tony Hicks (4.6 PPG), who’d averaged 13.0 PPG in his last two games before breaking his hand. Pitino has pushed all the right buttons, however, in his last few wins, whether it was relying on reserves Anas Mahmoud (6.0 PPG, 2.1 BPG) or seldom-used Ryan McMahon (3.0 PPG) against Syracuse (combined to score 12 of Louisville’s 18 overtime points in the overtime), or going back to the well with McMahon against Virginia Tech (nine points in nine minutes, 3-for-4 3PT). Louisville played uncharacteristically awful defense against the Hokies, failing to turn Virginia Tech over (nine TO) while allowing them to shoot 59% FG and a blistering 65.4% 3PT. Were it not for the Cardinals own terrific offensive play (51.5% FG, 54.5% 3PT) and their relentless offensive rebounding (16) -- which led to 19 more field goal attempts than the Hokies -- Louisville would’ve taken a damaging home loss. Wednesday’s game against North Carolina will pit them face-to-face with the nation’s best rebounding team and fifth overall scoring offense. Louisville blamed their defensive woes against matchup problems with a team (Virginia Tech) playing four guards. They won’t have that excuse against the long and physical Tar Heels, but the Cardinals also won’t be able to play volleyball on the offensive glass if their shots aren’t falling from the perimeter. One thing to look out for is Louisville’s rim protection: The Cardinals are ninth in the nation in blocks per game while, for all of North Carolina’s bulk, they’re very prone at getting shots sent back (4.4 blocks against per game, 334th in NCAA). The Tar Heels guards aren’t overly athletic, and have trouble finishing in the paint. Louisville is happy to have their backcourt fully healthy again, as they’re 3-0 since the return of junior G Quentin Snider (12.5 PPG, 4.1 APG). Snider, who missed six games from mid-January to early-February is averaging 15.3 PPG and is 9-for-20 3PT since his return, while combining to team up with emerging star G Donovan Mitchell (15.6 PPG, 2.1 SPG) for an explosive duo. Mitchell is averaging 18.9 PPG and 43% 3PT (2.9 threes) in ACC play.
North Carolina played arguably their best game of the season on Saturday, smothering Virginia 65-41. The Tar Heels held the reeling Cavaliers to just 27.8% FG in their best defensive effort of the season, while also crushing Virginia on the glass (44-26). Coach Williams’s starters did the damage on Saturday night, scoring 57 of North Carolina’s 65 points, but the bench will need to step up to keep pace with the much more up-tempo Cardinals on Wednesday evening. Star F Justin Jackson (18.6 PPG, 4.7 RPG) is starting to get some buzz as a Wooden Award contender, and the junior did nothing to dispel that talk with an outstanding 20-point, four-rebound, six-assist effort (4-for-6 threes) on Saturday. Jackson has 20+ points in eight out of his last 12 contests and went 6-of-9 FG last season in the loss at Louisville. One Tar Heel who had a nightmare of a game the last time these two teams met was G Joel Berry II (14.6 PPG, 4 APG). The then-sophomore was forced into 1-for-10 FG in a seven-point, one-assist outing in the loss last season. Berry II was about the only starter on North Carolina not to play up to par in the win over Virginia, going just 2-for-9 FG for five points. Along with Berry II, having F Theo Pinson (7.1 PPG, 4.6 RPG) in the backcourt will give Louisville a completely different look (four forwards) than they saw against Virginia Tech. Pinson, Jackson, Isaiah Hicks (12.5 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 62% FG) and Kennedy Meeks (12.6 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 53% FG) all stand 6-foot-6 or taller. For all of North Carolina’s dominant rebounding and scoring prowess, their defensive effort versus Louisville’s Mitchell and Snider could be the deciding factor in this game.