Get ready for wall-to-wall promotions on ESPN for the next 24 hours or so - I'm sure they started a few days ago - as college basketball's best rivalry is renewed Thursday night for the first time this season when North Carolina visits Duke. The schools are just eight miles apart on Tobacco Road, with UNC the state's flagship public university and Duke a private school that's probably 85 percent comprised of rich kids from the Northeastern USA. I get tired of all the hype around the rivalry, but I always end up watching - some of the pranks between the student bodies are legendary -- and surely will Thursday.
No. 8 North Carolina at No. 18 Duke ( -2.5 )
ACC game at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN. UNC holds a one-game lead over Florida State and Virginia for the conference lead. The Heels have a tough schedule left , including playing the Wahoos twice, home to No. 4 Louisville and closing the regular season as usual against Duke. The Heels had their game this past Saturday moved to Sunday and from Chapel Hill to Greensboro because of a water shortage. They beat No. 20 Notre Dame 83-76. North Carolina had a 44-25 rebounding advantage that led to 19 second-chance points. Coach Roy Williams could get good news here with the return of forward Theo Pinson. He was set to practice Wednesday and could go Thursday if there are no setbacks. Pinson averages 6.2 points. 5.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists in 16.2 minutes but has only played six games due to injuries. He has missed the past three.
Duke is 2.5 games behind the Heels, so a regular-season ACC title is probably out of the question. Now the goal is a Top-4 finish a double-bye in the ACC Tournament. The Dukies welcomed Coach Mike Krzyzewski back from his back surgery on Saturday and beat Pitt 72-64 for their third straight win. Grayson Allen scored 18 of his 21 points in the second half. Duke was 4-3 without Coach K. The Blue Devils are 21-12 vs. North Carolina over the past 15 years. Last year the teams split two close games, each winning on the road.
Key trends: The Heels are 1-6 against the spread in their past seven on the road. The Blue Devils are 3-12 ATS in their past 15 vs. the ACC. The underdog is 6-2 ATS in the past eight meetings.
I'm leaning: Duke.
No. 5 Oregon at No. 10 UCLA (-3.5)
Pac-12 game at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN. The Ducks are tied atop the Pac-12 with Arizona, and UCLA is two games back - so the Bruins can pretty much ditch their regular-season title hopes with a loss. Oregon looked as good as any team has all season Saturday in trashing then-No. 5 Arizona 85-58. Tyler Dorsey scored 23 points, including six 3-pointers, and the Ducks snapped Arizona's 15-game winning streak. It was also Oregon's 40th straight win at home, now the longest in the nation. It had 16 3-pointers (an arena record) and scored 30 points off turnovers.
UCLA went to the state of Washington last week and had no trouble sweeping Washington State and UW. I thought the Huskies might give the Bruins a good game Saturday, but it was 107-66. Lonzo Ball outplayed fellow UW hyped freshman Markelle Fultz with 22 points, six rebounds and five assists. Four UCLA players scored at least 20 points. It logged its second-largest margin of victory at Washington in program history. In addition, the Bruins scored at least 107 points in a Pac-12 road contest for the first time since Dec. 23, 1987. It was UCLA's first sweep in Washington since 2004. UCLA was ranked No. 2 when it lost at Oregon 89-87 on Dec. 28 on a Dillon Brooks 3-pointer with 0.8 seconds left.
Key trends: The Ducks are 20-7 ATS in their past 27 Pac-12 games. The Bruins are 3-9 ATS in their past 12. The home team is 5-1 ATS in the past six meetings.
Early lean: UCLA.
No. 1 Gonzaga at Loyola Marymount (TBA)
West Coast Conference game at 10 p.m. ET with no national TV. This could a major trap game for the No. 1 Zags, the lone unbeaten left. That's because their toughest true road game left on the schedule is easily this Saturday at No. 20 Saint Mary's. For that matter, I'd probably take the points against the Gaels on Thursday night too in a look-ahead game for them at home against Portland. Oddsmakers have finally started to give Gonzaga its due as it is the +750 betting favorite at BetOnline to win the first National Championship in school history. The Zags are looking for their first Final Four appearance. I believe the Zags will be the No. 1 seed in the West even if they lose Saturday at SMC - as long as they then don't again fall through the WCC Tournament. Gonzaga will be battling Oregon, Arizona and perhaps UCLA for that top spot out West. Remember, the No. 1 overall seed in the Big Dance gets to choose the location of its first two games in the tournament. I would imagine Gonzaga would pick Sacramento as that's the closest.
Does Loyola Marymount have any shot at an upset here? Yes, if Zags star Nigel Williams-Goss sits out as he did Saturday vs. Santa Clara with an ankle injury. He's questionable. The Lions are 11-12 overall and 4-8 in the WCC. They haven't even won consecutive games since mid-December. It's only the third time in school history that Loyola Marymount will host the No. 1 team. The previous two were San Francisco in 1956 & 1978. The school has faced a top-ranked school six times overall and is 0-6. None of them were close. Loyola Marymount lost at Gonzaga 93-55 on Jan. 12, but it was close for much of the first half. The Lions have dropped the past 15 in the series.
Key trends: The Zags are 8-2 ATS in their past 10 vs. teams with a losing record. The Lions are 8-3-1 ATS in their past 12 vs. teams with a winning record. The home team is 5-1 ATS in the past six meetings.
Early lean : Loyola Marymount will get double-digit points, Williams-Goss or not. Take the Lions.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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