Free Picks: North Carolina Tar Heels vs Wisconsin Badgers

North Carolina vs Wisconsin
North Carolina Tar Heels vs Wisconsin Badgers, NCAA, Mackey Arena

The No. 9 Wisconsin Badgers (17-12, 11-11 Big 10) fell out of the pollster’s good graces thanks to a rough stretch of losses in recent weeks. Now they’ll see a tougher first round matchup in the NCAA tournament than they might have hoped, with the No. 8 North Carolina Tar Heels (18-10, 12-7 ACC) due up next. The last time these teams met in March Madness was in the Sweet 16 of the 2015 tournament, in which Wisconsin finished as the runner-up.

Badgers enter matchup vs. Tar Heels with plenty to prove

If you look at the Wisconsin Badgers’ record over the past month, you might not love what you see: the Badgers are just 2-6 since Valentine’s Day, including a loss in the quarterfinals of the Big 10 conference tournament.

Look closer, though, and you might find reason to forgive Wisconsin’s shortcomings. In the toughest conference in NCAA Division I this year, the Badgers fell victim to a brutal schedule of bashers down the stretch (facing No. 2 Illinois, No. 4 Michigan, No. 8 Iowa three times and No. 20 Purdue all in the past five weeks). Of their six recent losses, five came by single digits and four came by five points or fewer.

With the kind of talent Wisconsin possesses, it’s a bit of a surprise they fell to a 9-seed. And that makes them a really enticing money line wager (+100 at Betway) against 8th-seeded North Carolina on the current NCAA basketball odds. Check out the rest of our BetPicks prediction to understand why.

College basketball’s foremost analytics site — KenPom.com — loves the Badgers. They’re the 10th-ranked team in NCAA Division I on KenPom, thanks to some really impressive metrics (13th in adjusted defensive efficiency, second in offensive turnover rate, 28th in free throw percentage, etc.).

The knock against the Badgers is that they went 0-9 against the top bullies of the Big 10 (Illinois, Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa and Purdue). But Wisconsin did pull off a 14-point win over Loyola Chicago back in December, which is impressive given that the Ramblers wound up as the No. 17 team in the country.

On the other side, North Carolina is nearly equal in its defensive adeptness (15th in adjusted efficiency) while boasting the best offensive rebound rate in D-I (41.3%). The Tar Heels, funny enough, also lost to Iowa this season. They finished rather strong, winning three in a row before coming up three points short in the ACC tournament semifinal.

These No. 8 vs. No. 9 matchups are often a coin flip. But if Wisconsin hadn’t suffered a bunch of close losses in the season’s final weeks, they wouldn’t have wound up here. That’s why we’re excited about their value on the money line for Friday.

Stats

  • Wisconsin is 3-6-1 ATS in its past 10 games
  • The OVER has cashed in four of the Badgers’ past five games
  • North Carolina is 6-3-1 ATS in its past 10 games
  • The OVER has cashed in six of the Tar Heels’ past nine games

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Jordan Horrobin is a freelance sports journalist based in Toronto, Ontario, who enjoys sports-related research and telling engaging stories. His work can also be found at Sportsnet, Forbes and elsewhere. Though he abandoned most of his team-specific fandoms in the interest of unbiased analysis, Jordan roots hard for his fantasy football/hockey teams (and he's a complete homer for all things Ohio University). You can follow Jordan on Twitter at @JordanHorrobin

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