North Carolina forward Walker Kessler (13) reacts following an NCAA college basketball game against Florida State in Chapel Hill, N.C., Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
- The Syracuse Orange (13-8, 7-7 ACC) host the North Carolina Tar Heels (15-8, 9-5 ACC) Monday, March 1
- The ‘Cuse has lost two in a row, while UNC has won three of its last four
- Read below for odds, analysis, and our best bet for this matchup
The Syracuse Orange, losers of two straight, host the North Carolina Tar Heels Monday, March 1. Tip is set for 7pm ET at the Carrier Dome.
The Tar Heels overcame a 16-point deficit to beat Florida State, the conference’s top team, 78-70 at home on Saturday. Now, Roy Williams’ team ventures north to a venue the UNC program has only lost at once in its existence. Meantime, junior guard Alan Griffin had four 3-pointers on his way to a team-high 26 points for the Orange against Georgia Tech. But it wasn’t nearly enough as Syracuse squandered a five-point halftime lead in Atlanta, losing to the Ramblin’ Wreck 84-77.
Now, UNC is the slightest of favorites against a Jim Boeheim club that owns a 11-1 mark this season at home.
North Carolina vs Syracuse Odds
|North Carolina||-1 (-110)||-118||Ov 149 (-110)|
|Syracuse||+1 (-110)||+100||Un 149 (-110)|
Odds taken Feb. 28 at FanDuel
Walker Kessler Ranger
North Carolina freshman center Walker Kessler enjoyed a breakout game in UNC’s biggest win of the season so far. The 7-foot-1 Atlanta-area product had a career-high 20 points (on 9-for-10 shooting from the field), eight rebounds and four blocks. His presence also affected a number of plays on the defensive end — particularly in the painted area.
Today was the Walker Kessler game 💪📈#ACCMBB | @UNC_Basketball @WalkerKessler13 pic.twitter.com/FEqMBsQpBK
— ACC Digital Network (@theACCDN) February 28, 2021
Kessler’s huge game against the ‘Noles was somewhat out of left field — he came into the game averaging 3.4 points and 2.5 boards. But the kid, who is basically the Heels’ fourth big man, was highly recruited.
Entering Walker Kessler’s official visit to North Carolina, his two leaders were thought to be Duke and Auburn. Officially visited both schools. But he arrived in Chapel Hill on a Friday and by the time he left on Sunday, he was ready to commit. Made his announcement that night.
— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) February 27, 2021
For an Orange team that had no answers for Yellow Jacket power forward Moses Wright Saturday, Defending Kessler and his fellow UNC big men will be a daunting task for Syracuse.
As noted above, Wright simply had his way with Syracuse. The senior from Raleigh tied his season-high of 31 points, which came on 14-of-25 shooting, to go along with 16 rebounds for the Ramblin’ Wreck.
Boeheim’s team allowed a ridiculous 54 points in the paint. With an effort like that Monday, the ‘Cuse can kiss whatever slim hopes of earning a ticket to the NCAA Tournament it may still have goodbye. And the statistic certainly don’t portend of a dramatically different outcome.
In what might be the most telling predictor, SU ranks near the bottom (No. 312) in all of college basketball in offensive rebounding percentage defense, allowing 32.3-percent. Guess where North Carolina’s offensive rebound percentage ranks? No. 1, at 40.1-percent.
I’m not saying this one is over before it begins. But with Syracuse being so dramatically inferior to North Carolina in the paint — and with UNC’s deep rotation of talented big men, now including Kessler, hitting its stride — it’s going to be a tall order (pun intended) for the home team to stay in this one.
2021 NCAA Men’s Tournament Championship Odds Tracker
History Unkind, But …
Along with the fact of this being an utterly bad matchup for Boeheim’s boys, the trend simply does not favor Syracuse in the least. UNC has won ten of the last 11 games in the series and has only lost to the ‘Cuse once at the Carrier Dome all-time (a 57-45 loss to then-No. 2 Syracuse on Jan. 11, 2014).
‘Cuse on a 23-5 run pic.twitter.com/1L9omO9Cf8
— Syracuse Basketball (@Cuse_MBB) February 27, 2021
That said, SU is still fairly highly-rated by KenPom at No. 62 (UNC is No. 34). The Orange are a team that can definitely score, with a 112.5 points per 100 possessions mark that gives them the 28th-rated offense from an adjusted efficiency perspective. (By comparison, North Carolina is No. 67 with 109.6 points per 100 possessions).
The Orange roster features five players that average between 15.5 and 10.0 points per game, led by junior guard and the Hall of Fame coach’s son, Buddy. The younger Boeheim had 12 against the Yellow Jackets, but scored a combined 60 points in his previous two outings. If Syracuse — which has been a formidable team inside the dome this season — can get into a track meet-type game against North Carolina, the Orange have a shot.
Of course, Williams — who became only the fourth coach in college basketball history to reach 900 victories Saturday (and the fastest to do it) — knows that and will likely try to slow it down and turn Monday into a half-court game, taking advantage of the Heels’ length. I’m fading Syracuse in this spot and going with UNC to ride momentum to victory.
The pick: North Carolina -1 (-110)
Blair Johnson is a veteran journalist and seasoned sports content creator. He has been writing and producing content as long as he can remember, with such familiar names as CNN, NFL Media and Yahoo. Blair currently lives and works in the greater Los Angeles area.