For one final regular season College Basketball Saturday, we have a giant slate to look forward to; packed with rivalry games, battles for tournament seeding, and teams looking to close out the season on a high note before entering post-season play.
Today’s article will feature two of the biggest games of the year in College Basketball; round two of some of the sport’s most heated rivalries – featuring four of the better squads in the country.
First, we’ll venture to Chapel Hill, where North Carolina will have the opportunity to sweep a vulnerable Duke team, void of its biggest star, with both teams still having hopes of a number one seed in the ACC Tournament.
And then, in East Lansing, Michigan State will be swinging for the sweep as well, with Michigan coming to down, and the winner guaranteed the number one seed in the Big Ten Tournament.
Back on the winning track with a close cover on Wednesday, with LSU, I’ll look to close out the regular season strong, with one final CBB Saturday edition of the Primetime Previewer.
4 Duke (26-4, 14-4) @ 3 UNC (25-5, 15-2)
6:00 pm ET ESPN
Open: UNC – 2.5
Spread: UNC – 4
Consensus: UNC 73%
North Carolina seems to be a bit of a forgotten team in 2019; and with all the hype surrounding Duke, and Zion Williamson, the Tar Heels have flown under the radar as a dark horse, highly capable of cutting down the nets in April.
Having lost just two games in the ACC (Louisville (21st), 83-62 & Virginia (1st), 69-61), Carolina has coasted for the most part, going undefeated on the road in-conference, and putting themselves in prime position for a number one seed in, not only the ACC Tournament, but the Big Dance.
Now winners of six straight, the Tar Heels will have the chance to close the regular season out on the highest of notes, culminating in sweep of their biggest rival, while also generating the momentum they’ll need if they are to make a run in the ACC Tourney, and ultimately, in March.
The sample size has now grown, and with five games now in the books for the Zion-less Blue Devils, it’s clear that Duke isn’t quite the same team. Going 3-2 in this span, with losses: @ VA Tech (11th) 77-72, and vs. this very UNC team, 88-72, the only real impressive game Duke has played was last Saturday’s 87-57 manhandling of Miami (69th).
They followed that up with a close, 71-70, call against a mediocre Wake Forest (169th) team, at home, however, and perhaps it was a look ahead spot, or maybe it is simply illustrative of who this Duke team is without Zion – very good, but certainly not great.
The Blue Devils will have the chance tonight, to not only potentially earn themselves a one seed in the ACC Tournament, but also exact revenge on their rival, and show the world just how dangerous they are – even without their star.
Keys to the Matchup:
The first game between the two Blue Bloods, played just under three weeks ago, in Cameron, was the one in which Zion went down, in minute one, and eventually resulted in an, 88-72, victory for the Tar Heels.
Diving deeply into the box score of the game, the final score could’ve even been much worse, taking into consideration that Carolina shot an atrocious 10% from three, on 20 attempts. This is assuredly an outlier performance from this Carolina offense (7th) that has shot over 37% on the year (49th).
Yes, the Duke defense (7th) does pride itself on being one that is lockdown on the perimeter (4th), but Carolina’s statistically predicted three-point percentage in this game would’ve been around 31% – factoring in Duke’s 29% allowed percentage on the year. If the Tar Heels would’ve shot 31% here, they would’ve been looking at a 103-72 win.
That’s not to say Duke shot the lights out from downtown, in hitting eight of 39 attempts (21%), but the Blue Devils have been far worse of a three-point shooting team (328th), and only shot 10 percent below their predicted 3P%, considering Carolina’s three-point percentage defense (123rd).
Duke did manage to get to the free-throw line five more times than did Carolina, but the Heels won nearly every other statistic: out-rebounding Duke by five, creating five more turnovers, and committing two less fouls.
The real question to ask in this rematch: is there any reason to believe Duke can turns things around? Well, it does probably help that they’ve become accustomed to playing without Zion as opposed to losing him mid-game, but what if Carolina shoots their project 31% from three? Or even better?
Carolina did outperform expectation inside (94th), in going 65%, while Duke (4th) met expectation, going 51%, but even so, Carolina got up 22 more attempts from inside three.
Overall, it’s difficult, in analyzing the stats from the first game, to find reasonable cause to believe that the first result was much of an outlier. Carolina controlled the stats that depend less on luck, and anything short of Duke getting incredibly hot from the field could result in another cover for the Heels,
Duke is 6-4 ATS on the road
Duke is 5-5 ATS in their last 10
UNC is 7-7-2 ATS at home
UNC is 6-4 ATS in their last 10
The overnight money has been all over North Carolina, driving the opener up to four across the off-shore board. Most of the major books are at a standard -110, save for: Pinnacle, who is reduced on both sides, but slightly juicing the Duke side, and Bovada, who has gone to a soft 4.5 on Carolina.
Lean: UNC – 4 -110
The number has gotten away some from the soft opening number, but I still lean UNC, based mostly upon the first meeting results. Much of what determined the outcome in that game was far from luck; and if anything, it was UNC’s performance that veered most from a statistically average result, considering their 10% three-point percentage.
Yes, it’s a rivalry and it’ll probably be a lot tighter this time around and Duke has had some time to acclimate itself to being without Zion, but this game now being played in Chapel Hill is even more reason to believe that the shooting percentages could sway more in UNC’s favor this time around, and if they do, it should be another cover for the Heels.
7 Michigan (26-4, 15-4) @ 9 Michigan State (24-6, 15-4)
8:00 pm ET ESPN
Open: MSU – 4
Spread: MSU – 4
Consensus: MICH 69%
Tied for first in the Big Ten standings, the winner tonight will guarantee themselves a #1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, the double bye that comes with it, and great chance at earning a #2 seed in the Big Dance.
It was Michigan State that prevailed in the first meeting, and that win was the fifth and final win of a five-game winning streak – in the middle of which Sparty lost their star Junior Center, Nick Ward, for perhaps the remainder of the year.
Ward wasn’t available for the game in Ann Arbor, but Izzo’s boys still got it done. They would then followi that impressive performance with a 63-62 loss in Indiana (43rd) – a let-down game to be sure.
Bouncing back with a 91-76 win vs. Nebraska on Tuesday, Sparty will still have the chance to sweep their rival, lockup the Big Ten, and gain some serious momentum heading into the postseason.
This year’s Michigan team may be John Beilein’s best yet; and that’s saying something, considering that they are just one year removed from playing in the NCAA Championship game.
This is the first year he’s ever had an offense (20th) and defense (3rd) both within the top 20, and it has showed, with the Wolverines only losing one game at home (to Michigan), and with only three other losses – all respectable one’s in-conference (@ Wisconsin (12th) @ Iowa (40th) @ Penn State).
The Wolverines haven’t played since last Sunday, where they finished off a sweep of Maryland with a 69-62 victory on the road, and should be rejuvenated – with an extra couple of days to prepare for tonight’s rematch with the Wolverines; in which they will get a chance to avenge their one loss at home to their intrastate rival, claim the number one spot in the Big Ten, and build momentum for March.
Keys to the Matchup:
That game, in Michigan, played just under two weeks ago, was won 77-70 by the Spartans, but really could’ve went either way.
Statistically, they game played out very evenly: with Michigan winning shot attempts by 10 but Sparty generating 10 more free-throw attempts, and most other categories – such as rebounding, turnovers, and fouls committed – very similar.
It was really Michigan State’s shot percentage inside (68%) and their ability to get to the line (30 attempts), where they shot 80%, that told the story in this game.
In considering MSU’s shot percentage inside the arc: the statically predicted percentage, based upon Michigan State’s (55.2% 29th), and Michigan’s defensive percentage inside (44% 13th), would’ve been around 48.5%. The Spartans out-performed this by a near 20%, which when you’re talking about 28 attempts is six shots, or 12 points.
In terms of free-throws, Sparty out-shot their percentage by six, enough to account for two more points. Michigan did out-shoot their free-throw percentage by 15, enough to account for three points, so this would actually be a net +1 variance in favor of Michigan.
It was the amount of the free-throws that Michigan State generated (30), however, that was the anomaly, considering that on they year, the Spartans have only manage to create 34% of their Field Goal Attempts to Free-throw attempts (145th), and Michigan has only allowed 24% (5th). That would predict a 29% conversion rate. Michigan State created free-throws on 60% of their attempts in this game, nearly doubling expectation.
Therefore, there is reason to believe, that if Michigan State shoots closer to the predicted 48.5%, and only generates free-throws closer to the statistically predicted, 29%, we could be looking at a drastically different final score here.
MICH is 8-4 ATS on the road
MICH is 7-3 ATS in their last 10
MSU is 11-4 ATS at home
MSU is 5-5 ATS in their last 10
The early action has been in favor of Michigan, and much of the market has responded with moves, either down to 3.5, or on the juice – upping the tax on the Michigan bet. Bookmaker and Bovada are a few of those who have made the move down to 3.5, while Pinnacle, BetOnline, and 5Dimes have remained four.
Play: Michigan 4 -110
Based on the box score in the first meeting, there is no reason to believe that this isn’t going to be a very close game, especially considering the implications and the rivalry. If Michigan State shoots true to percentage inside, and Michigan keeps them off the line – both likely considering the outlier nature of these stats in the first meeting, then Michigan could easily win this game straight up.
The season long metric (KenPom) predicts a four-point victory for Michigan State; right target on the with the number. But what may be under-represented in the spread are: the road revenge associated with this game, and the key injury to MSU’s Nick Ward – which has screwed the full-season metrics.
I expect a down-to-the-wire type of game that Michigan could easily win in the end.