Midwest Region First Round Prediction & Free Pick: #1 North Carolina vs. #16 Iona

Date | AuthorAllen Moody

Last Updated: 2019-03-21

The Iona Gaels have a tall order in front of them Friday night in Nationwide Center in Columbus, Ohio, when they play No. 1-seeded North Carolina in a 9:20 p.m. EST tip-off. The No. 16-seeded Gaels advanced to the tournament by virtue of capturing the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament, while the Tar Heels received an at-large did after falling to Duke 74-73 in the ACC Tournament.

North Carolina opened as 24.5-point favorites and the line has dropped to UNC-22.5 even though more than 60% of the wagers have come in on the Tar Heels. The total has climbed from 164.5 to 166.5.

Chapel Hill is just over seven hours away from Columbus and a team that draws thousands of fans to its practices is sure to get a number of Tar Heel faithful at the game. Iona has a 9.5-hour trip to Columbus, so North Carolina has to get a bit of a location edge.

Iona: Regardless of what happens here, and it likely won’t be pretty, this has been an amazing run for Iona, who stood at 2-9 after 11 games and were 7-15 and 5-6 in Metro Atlantic play after a 66-65 home loss to Quinnipac on Feb. 8. But the Gaels proceeded to win their final seven conference games and all three tournament games to wind up in the ‘Big Dance.’

The one problem, however, is that those victories came over teams ranked in the No. 200s and No. 300s of Ken Pomeroy’s ratings and the best win over their recent winning streak came against No. 211 Rider. The Gaels only played three teams ranked in Pom’s top 100, losing all three by an average of 18.66 points.

Iona is a little better than average on offense, shooting 45.3% from the field against foes who allowed 44.4%, but the Gaels are below average on defense, allowing more points and a higher shooting percentage than their foes averaged.

North Carolina: The Tar Heels had a typical North Carolina season, bringing a 27-6 record into this one and all six losses came against top 30 teams, with four of those coming against top 10 teams, including the ACC Tournament loss to Duke and you knew that was going to be a tough one after the Tar Heels won the two regular season meetings between the two.

The Tar Heels don’t have any weaknesses, being both solid on offense and defense, scoring 17.3 more points than their opponents allowed during the season, while holding teams to 11.3 fewer points than they scored during the year. Those numbers were accomplished while playing the second-toughest schedule in the country, which makes it even more impressive.

Game: Iona started off the season playing at a frantic up-and-down pace but did slow things down a little as the season went on and started having some success. But now, they’re faced with a team who will want to get up and down the court and if the Gaels revert to their previous style, it should be a long evening for Iona.

The Tar Heels shot 46.4% from the field this year, which doesn’t sound all that impressive until you see their foes are holding teams to 42.1% and both teams are decent shooting 3-pointers, as each make more than 35% from long range.

Pick: Iona +22.5

This is simply a case of motivation and how much North Carolina has to put a beating on the Gaels, who are a better team now than they were early on in the season. Iona can shoot well from 3-point range and if they can make a few have a chance at sticking within a pretty large number in this spot.

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