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CBB: North Carolina vs Kentucky Money Line Best Bet

North Carolina Tar Heels(10-1) @ Kentucky Wildcats(9-1)

  • Where: T-Mobile Arena. Las Vegas, NV
  • When: December 17, 2016 5:45 pm EST

Betting on early-season college basketball is an inexact science, full of weird prop bets and strange scenarios. Astronomical point spreads cause gamblers to jump and curse at the TV while other fans are sleeping through ho-hum blowouts. Will the UConn women get at least 15 blocks on Rhode Island? Will Notre Dame break 100 against Bethune-Cookman?

Even wagering on March Madness futures can be nothing but guesswork. There isn’t much to tell about a contender from a sloppy showcase tournament in Hawaii, or a 142-58 romp over Technical College XYZ. But as the holidays draw near, things begin to get serious. Ranked teams settle down for the long haul, NCAA tourney-hopefuls prepare for the conference slate, and a few marquee weekend games begin to decorate the hardwood.

There isn’t a better December match-up to be found than Kentucky vs. North Carolina, who square off this Saturday in the CBS Sports Classic. Bovada Sportsbook has the Wildcats’ odds to win a national championship at a stout (+650), while the Tar Heels aren’t far behind at (+750). Kentucky is ranked #6 and UNC #7 in the Associated Press poll, while the USA Today poll simply flips the 2. UK is shooting 48.5 from the field, North Carolina 48.4. UNC is slightly better from beyond the 3-point arc, but Kentucky is scoring over 94 points per game with forceful play in the paint.

With the 5:45 PM tip-off held at a neutral site, is this a true coin-flip scenario or is there a value bet hiding in the weeds? Find out in the rest of our Tar Heels vs. Wildcats betting preview.

Kentucky Wildcats – NBA lite

UNC vs Kentucky PreviewFor many, John Calipari is the coach who killed top-tier college basketball as a student-athletic institution. To others, he’s a genius. There is only 1 senior on Kentucky’s 2016-17 roster, 6’9″ forward Derek Willis. Everyone else is a freshman or a sophomore, which is not unusual at UK. Rather, it’s by design.

Calipari recognized years ago that catering to NBA-level recruits means an almost non-existent graduation rate. Rather than pitch a 4-year education, the skipper offers his services to super-talented NBA hopefuls for a season or 2 as their preparation for the pro draft.

And oh, what super talent UK has rounded up yet again. Freshman guard Malik Monk is a wunderkind, with 194 points on the young season and near-40% shooting from 3-point range. Another guard, Isaiah Briscoe, leads the team with 17 steals and is shooting 54% from the field. 260 lb. freshman Edrice Adebayo is a rebound machine.

Calipari has expressed concern, however, that the team is not in 100% playing shape. “We need to get in the gym and the camp part of our season,” Calipari said after a 96-73 drubbing of Hofstra on Sunday.

North Carolina – running opponents ragged

The Tar Heels love to run, as evidenced by a 107-75 fast-break frenzy over Oklahoma State earlier this season. That gives UNC fans hope going into Saturday’s showdown, as Kentucky’s lone loss came at home to speedy UCLA on December 3rd. Roy Williams’ squad is more experienced than the diaper dandies at UK, an advantage that many teams enjoy when facing Kentucky but few are athletic enough to cash in on.

Scoring is healthy, with junior forward Justin Jackson pacing the team with 171 points. Jackson is a sure shot from the free throw line with 86% accuracy. The Tar Heels lead the country in offensive rebounds.

But star guard Joel Berry II is having injury problems, echoing the sight of the then-sophomore on crutches at the end of the 2016 NCAA Tournament. Berry left a December 4th contest against Radford with a foot injury and has not played since. That will play a key role in wagering as bettors look for any reason to go either way on a tight ML.

(Fast) break on the O/U in-play

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Look for Calipari to try to keep the 2 half-court offenses trading possessions. The Wildcats’ dominance in the paint and the team’s propensity for drawing fouls could help eek out a close win if the perennial SEC contenders go into the final 10 minutes with at least a small lead.

But Roy Williams will have no part of it. If UNC falls behind early, venture a 1-unit in-play on the over as the Tar Heels will use their superior fast break to try to win back the advantage. If ‘Carolina leads in the 2nd half, Williams could slow things down, but a UK lead may result in aggressive offense and lots of scoring.

Tar Heels vs. Wildcats ML prediction

In the NCAA Tournament, teams that get up and down can blow a game wide open. Players can be worn down by season’s end, with depth at a premium and limping squads shown a quick March exit. That’s why pacing slows when the elimination bracket tips off – after a long season, coaches fear playing a fast team with bodies to burn.

But in December, generals such as Calipari welcome a fast-paced contest. Yes, UK coaches will challenge their athletes to improve conditioning at every turn. But Kentucky has the healthy depth to keep up with quick possession-changes and wear down UNC, especially with Berry sidelined. UNC’s quick transition game and aggressiveness on the boards will make it interesting, but it won’t make the difference.

Visit the Bovada Sportsbook (50% Sign-up bonus for up to $250 cash), and place a unit or two on Kentucky to win a hard-fought battle.

Kurt BoyerThis article was written by Kurt Boyer

A freelance sportswriter from Missouri, Kurt has covered court, gridiron, rink and ring for 10+ years. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.

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