Conference tournament chaos already seems to be a thing and the big boys haven’t even gotten underway yet. The top seed in the Horizon League went down on Monday night and BYU won’t get a repeat crack at Gonzaga after losing by a point to Saint Mary’s. It is not easy playing in this one-and-done conference tournament format, as so many teams find out year in and year out.
We’ve got some championship games tonight with Saint Mary’s vs. Gonzaga, Northeastern vs. Hofstra, and UIC vs. Northern Kentucky with some early-morning line postings starting to pop up and then St Francis (PA) vs. Robert Morris in the NEC and North Dakota State vs. North Dakota in the Summit as well.
Our focus here, however, will be on the start of the ACC Tournament down in Greensboro, where North Carolina and Virginia Tech play in the second of two first-round games. North Carolina dramatically underachieved in the regular season, due in large part to the injury to Cole Anthony. Some shops have the #14 seed Tar Heels as low as 12/1 to win the conference tournament, which would require five wins in five days.
That quest begins tonight against #11 Virginia Tech. UNC opened -2.5, but this line has been hammered up to -4 as the last gasp for the Tar Heels begins with what will be a pro-UNC crowd at the Coliseum. At time of writing, there were some -3.5s hanging around at BetOnline and Bookmaker, but those don’t seem to be here to stay.
For a full-fledged preview of the ACC Tournament, you can check that out right here and I would also encourage you to get a look at all of my conference tournament previews on this handy little landing page.
North Carolina went just 6-14 in the conference play portion of the season and 13-18 overall. The Tar Heels do still get some respect here as a favorite against Virginia Tech, a team that they lost to in double overtime during the regular season. Star standout Cole Anthony wasn’t the only player to battle injuries, as he missed 11 games. Senior Brandon Robinson also missed nine games and freshman Anthony Harris only appeared in five games.
Junior Garrison Brooks has done everything in his power with 16.7 points per game and 8.8 rebounds per contest. He’ll have to shoulder a lot of the load here as well, as Anthony cannot do it all by himself. In fact, Brooks has scored at least 20 points in each of the last six games he has played.
Even with the freshman standout in Anthony, UNC was only 9-11 in games that he played. This wasn’t going to be a top-notch UNC team in all likelihood anyway, but they certainly weren’t going to be as bad as they were. This last stand in the ACC Tournament seems to be popular with the betting crowds and markets, but this is a team that ranks 305th in eFG% on offense and has just been a bad shooting team as a whole. They rank 309th in 3P% and 271st in 2P%. They are also 281st in FT%.
Even though Virginia Tech isn’t what they used to be defensively, they are still 80th in adjusted defensive efficiency and rank 97th in 3P% against and 155th in 2P% against. North Carolina is going to have to make shots here. Furthermore, Virginia Tech ranked 300th in adjusted tempo, so we have a pace war here. UNC was 62nd. We’ll see which team dictates the tempo. If UNC can speed up VA Tech, that would help their chances.
The only saving grace for UNC’s offense has been their ability to attack the offensive glass. Virginia Tech ranks 53rd in ORB% against, so they’ve done a pretty good job of cleaning things up on their end of the floor.
This is a tough one because we know that UNC has a much higher ceiling than Virginia Tech. The Hokies have also been trending down at a very steep rate in the second half of the season, which is why this line has gone up from -2.5 to -4. Virginia Tech actually started 5-3 in conference play, but wound up 7-13, with lone home wins over Pitt and Clemson.
The fact of the matter is that North Carolina has something to look forward to here and Virginia Tech doesn’t. UNC has one shot. Virginia Tech has no shots. That is why this line has moved. Even though the Tar Heels are a fatally-flawed team that probably bows out in the next round or the round after, their length, athleticism, and motivation should be too much for a poor Virginia Tech team to handle.
Pick: North Carolina -4