Probably the best event before conference play begins in college basketball arrives on Tuesday and Wednesday this week with the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The made-for-ESPN Challenge has been a huge success so far, and the shifting landscape might show the Big Ten has surpassed the ACC in basketball. While the ACC won the first 10 Challenges, the Big Ten won 8-4 last year, and four of those wins came on the road. It was the Big Ten’s third straight Commissioner’s Cup.
There are some terrific matchups this year, including No. 18 NC State at No. 5 Michigan and No. 4 Ohio State looking to hand No. 2 Duke its first home nonconference loss since 2000 (96 straight wins), But how can I not make Tuesday’s No. 14 North Carolina-No. 1 Indiana matchup my college hoops preview this week (and first of the 2012-13 season)?
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The schools have combined for 26 Final Four visits and five National Championships each, not to mention two of the most iconic coaches in NCAA history in Dean Smith and Bobby Knight. The top-ranked Hoosiers, with all five starters back from last year’s 27-win team led by National Player of the Year favorite Cody Zeller, are the +400 National Championship favorites at Sportsbook.ag. UNC, which reached last season’s Elite Eight but lost four starters as first-round NBA picks, are +2500 to win a sixth title.
Somehow, UNC and IU haven’t met since December 2004.
North Carolina at Indiana Betting Storylines
These programs share one more thing in common: the Zeller family bloodline. Tyler Zeller was a first-round pick of the Cavaliers in the 2012 NBA Draft after winning ACC Player of the Year honors last season for North Carolina. Somehow Roy Williams was able to get him out of his native Indiana – probably because Tom Crean was still rebuilding the IU program.
Cody Zeller, meanwhile, is certainly the player to beat for Big Ten Player of the Year and was the conference’s co-freshman of the year in 2011-12. He would have been a Top-10 pick had he come out – ahead of Tyler – but wanted to bring a title to Bloomington. With another good season, Cody could easily go No. 1 in next year’s draft. He’s averaging 15.2 points, 7.7 rebounds and shooting 64 percent from the field. IU has been tested already, getting taken to overtime last week in the Legends Classic in Brooklyn by Georgetown. Otherwise, the Hoosiers (6-0) haven’t played anyone of note (sorry Georgia).
North Carolina is very young and has looked it already. Over in Maui last week, UNC was dominated in an 82-71 loss to Butler (which then lost by 17 the next night to Illinois). Carolina was down 29 at one point and was held to 18 first-half points (lowest in 16 years). Little Butler also outrebounded UNC by nine. The Heels bounced back by destroying Division III Chaminade, but the loss dropped them five spots in the latest polls. UNC is led by another likely Top-5 pick next year, forward James Michael McAdoo. He’s averaging 16.8 points and 8.8 rebounds. McAdoo likely will draw the assignment most times on Zeller (when Heels aren’t in a zone) but gives up three inches.
One bright spot so far for UNC has been its bench, which is averaging a little more than 37 points a game, second-most in Division I. But that depth could be tested on Tuesday if sophomore swingman P.J. Hairston can’t play. He is “iffy” after he injured his knee during Sunday's practice. Hairston, who is averaging 10.8 points and 4.2 rebounds while shooting 35.3 percent on three-pointers off the bench, has a mild left knee sprain. An update is likely by Monday night, but right now it looks unlikely for Hairston, and that’s a big loss.
North Carolina at Indiana Betting Odds and Key Trends
At BetOnline, Indiana is a nine-point favorite and there is no total as of this writing. UNC is 3-1 ATS this season and 1-3 “over/under”. IU is 5-1 ATS and 3-1 O/U.
UNC is 5-1 ATS in its past six road games. The Heels have covered eight of their past 11 vs. the Big Ten. Indiana is 13-3 ATS in its past 16 nonconference games. The Hoosiers have covered 16 of their past 21 at home. IU is 1-4 ATS in its past five vs. ACC teams. The under is 4-0 in UNC’s past four vs. the Big Ten. The over is 5-1 in IU’s past six nonconference games.
College Basketball Picks: North Carolina at Indiana Betting Predictions
Indiana is one of just four schools with a winning record vs. UNC in at least 10 meetings at 7-5. However, Carolina leads the nation with 12 all-time wins against top-ranked teams. More than half of those have come against Duke. Last year the Heels lost 73-72 at No. 1 Kentucky – a game that introduced UK freshman Anthony Davis to the nation. Roy Williams is 3-2 vs. No. 1 teams as head coach at UNC. IU beat a good NC State last year in the Challenge in Raleigh, 86-75. That was really when you started to think the 2011-12 Hoosiers were going to be good – two games later they upset No. 1 Kentucky in Bloomington.
I definitely don’t think Carolina can win this game right now – maybe in March, but not now. Hairston’s injury almost assures that. But nine points? I can’t remember the last time a UNC team was that big of a dog. The Heels cover. These are two of the highest-scoring teams in the nation, so take the over no matter what it’s posted as (probably somewhere around 150).
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