ACC basketball action for Saturday features a big in-state rivalry game between North Carolina and Wake Forest. North Carolina is having a very good season and enters this game with a 19-5 SU/13-9 ATS record. The Tar Heels are coming off a loss to #4 Virginia on Monday. Things won’t get any easier for Roy Williams and his charges as they’ll play at #2 Duke on Wednesday. Wake Forest is one of those teams that is better than their record indicates. They’re a decent basketball squad but they’re getting ground down this season by the ridiculously high level of opposition in the ACC.
North Carolina’s loss to Virginia was a big deal since it put the Tar Heels and the Cavs into a tie for second place in the ACC. Both teams are one game back of Duke which adds to the significance of North Carolina’s forthcoming matchup. The forthcoming game against the Blue Devils also underscores the Tar Heels’ biggest issue at the moment–injuries. Freshman forward/guard Rechon ‘Leaky’ Black missed his fourth consecutive game last time out with a sprained ankle and is listed as being ‘out indefinitely’. Sophomore forward Sterling Manley had missed his 12th straight game with a sore knee. He’s getting closer to a return and is listed as ‘questionable’. North Carolina coach Williams has been suggesting that Manley won’t play in his recent comments to the media.
The Tar Heels did get some good news on the injury front–Senior Cam Johnson left the loss to UVA in the second half and did not return with a hurt ankle. It proved to be nothing serious and Williams expects him to play here. The biggest question mark is the status of Tar Heels’ sixth man Nassir Little. Little left in the first half of the previous game with an ankle injury and didn’t return. He practiced on Friday and is listed as ‘questionable’ though Williams’ comments suggest he’ll be a ‘game time decision’. The North Carolina coach summed up the obvious for the clueless media in attendance:
“Needless to say, when you have Leaky, Cam and Nassir, that’s three guys that are in the same boat — all three perimeter players. They test your depth.”
Depth isn’t the only issue here. A bigger problem is that it limits North Carolina’s tactical options and makes Wake Forest a much more difficult opponent. If a good team lacks a perimeter game in college hoops it allows the opponent to pack the paint. North Carolina is fully capable of beating Wake Forest on the inside but it also makes the matchup more physical and generally a more ‘ugly’ game.
Another important factor is focus and priorities. North Carolina is a -17 point favorite in this game and even with their injuries shouldn’t have too much trouble dispatching the Demon Deacons. A bigger concern, of course, is the looming matchup with the Duke Blue Devils. That game and a March 9 rematch at Chapel Hill could go a long way to determine the ACC championship winner.
So what do we do when we’ve got a big favorite with some injury issues that just wants to get this game in the books to move on to the ‘bigger fish they have to fry’? That’s right–we take the points. The Tar Heels should win here but not by a sufficient margin to cover this pointspread. North Carolina was in a similar situation last Saturday, facing ACC also ran Miami in a ‘sandwich’ situation after NC State and before the matchup with Virginia. They were a -17 chalk against Miami but needed overtime to scrap out a three point win. This game should be a little easier but we still want those 17 big points.