This article is part of our College Basketball Picks series.
The ACC/SEC challenge heats up on Wednesday, and I'm here to break down the two marquee matchups. Here are my best bets for the day.
Tennessee at North Carolina
Tennessee started the season 4-0 before dropping two consecutive games to close out the Maui Invitational. Losses never look good, but it helps when they come to the likes of Purdue and Kansas, two teams with legitimate national championship aspirations. By now, most college hoops fans know the deal with Tennessee. The Vols play elite defense, the best in the country in efficiency, per KenPom, but the offense is a major liability. Tennessee ranks 53rd in offensive efficiency, not awful in the big picture, but significantly lower than other elite teams, including its opponent on Wednesday.
North Carolina isn't far behind Tennessee in overall efficiency, ranking at No. 12 compared to seventh for the latter, but the Tar Heels are the significantly more balanced team. North Carolina ranks 11th in adjusted offensive efficiency and 24th in defense, giving us a team that matches up well against most opponents.
Looking at how these teams compare against each other, the biggest area that stands out is free-throw shooting. North Carolina is attempting foul shots at the 36th-highest rate among all D1 teams, while Tennessee's defense is ranked 291st in free-throw attempts allowed. This advantage also plays out in the other direction as well, as the Tar Heels' defense is 84th in free-throw attempts allowed, and Tennessee attempting free-throws at a rate lower than the average D1 team. Based on these numbers, and the fact that the Tar Heels are hosting Wednesday's game, one can reasonably project a free-throw advantage strongly in favor of North Carolina.
Overall, this matchup is extremely even on paper, but it's hard to overlook the better offensive team and the fact that it's playing at home. There's always a chance Tennessee's defense manages to singlehandedly win the game, but this seems less likely on the road against a potent offensive team. I'm laying the points with the home team in this one.
College Basketball Best Bet: North Carolina -2
Duke at Arkansas
Duke has been on cruise control over the past couple of weeks, coasting to a four-game winning streak since losing to Arizona on November 10th. The first game in this streak was a nine-point victory over Michigan State, a nice resume-builder, but the other three games were effectively exhibitions against some of the lowest-ranked D1 teams in the land. This means that Arkansas will be Duke's first noteworthy opponent in a while, but the Blue Devils have looked sharp all season, even in their loss to Arizona, so all signs indicate that they'll be ready.
Arkansas, on the other hand, has been reeling in that same period. The Razorbacks have lost three of their last four games, including a home game to UNC Greensboro and back-to-back games against Memphis and North Carolina in the Battle 4 Atlantis. The lone exception in that four-game span was a three-point victory in double overtime against Stanford, so Arkansas isn't that far from the possibility of riding a four-game losing streak. In any event, that's not the worst of it. Near the end of its most recent game against North Carolina, Arkansas' leading scorer Tramon Mark fell hard on the court and suffered a concerning injury that led to hospitalization. Thankfully, Mark was already released, but it's doubtful he'll play on Wednesday.
All in all, Duke is simply the better team. The Blue Devils rank significantly higher in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and they're playing at full strength. Arkansas, in contrast, has struggled to score in recent weeks and that was before Tramon Mark's injury. It's always possible home-cooking does the trick for the Razorbacks and they pull off the upset, but ultimately I'm betting that Duke's talent and consistency will win the game when the dust finally settles.
Additionally, I'm also taking the under considering the defensive nature of both teams. Duke's defensive efficiency numbers have slid a little bit over the past couple of weeks, although it has held five of six opponents to under 67 points, so it's still playing at a high level. This is mostly the same group of players that finished last season ranked 16th in defensive efficiency, so it's logical to think this defensive standing will improve over time. Arkansas has also seen its defensive numbers take a dip in the last couple of weeks, although head coach Eric Musselman has made a habit of coaching up his team on defense. The Razorbacks have finished in the top 20 of the country in defensive efficiency in each of the past three seasons, giving us amble reason to think their current defensive numbers can still improve. Considering all the latest data and most recent results, I like our chances of seeing a low-scoring game. I'm also taking the under.
College Basketball Best Bet: Duke -5.5 and Under 149.5
Wednesday College Basketball Best Bets:
Here's a recap of my best college basketball bets for Wednesday:
- North Carolina -2
- Duke -5.5
- Duke at Arkansas - Under 149.5
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