South Regional Final No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels (-2 ½) vs. No. 2 Kentucky Wildcats (159 ½)
Venue: FedEx Forum
Location: Memphis, Tennessee
TV-Time: CBS, 5:05 p.m. ET
In a year when many surprising guests have invaded the Elite Eight, there’s nothing shocking about the schools that’ll square off Sunday in the South Region finals at FedEx Forum in Memphis. That would be North Carolina and Kentucky.
UK is in its 57th NCAA Tournament and is looking to make its 18th Final Four appearance. Meanwhile, UNC is in its 48th Tourney, hoping to go to its 20th Final Four.
As of late Saturday night, most books had North Carolina installed as a 2.5-point favorite with the total in the 159-160 range. The Wildcats were available on the money line for a +125 return (risk $100 to win $125).
These storied programs have only met three times in the NCAA Tournament, but all three of those encounters have come in this same situation – a region final. In 1977, the Tar Heels won a 79-72 decision. Then in 1995, UNC sent UK packing again on its way to another Final Four. But in 2011, the ‘Cats captured a 76-69 victory.
Kentucky (32-5 straight up, 19-17 against the spread) avenged a December home loss to UCLA by beating the Bruins 86-75 as a 1.5-point underdog. The 161 combined points fell ‘under’ the 167-point total. De’Aaron Fox exploded for a career-high 39 points, but it was the defense that was the difference against the nation’s top-scoring offense.
UCLA still shot at a 52.7 percent clip from the field, but the Bruins committed 13 turnovers compared to only six for the ‘Cats. Steve Alford’s team made only 8-of-13 attempts at the free-throw line.
Fox hit 13-of-20 shots from the field and 13-of-15 tries from the charity stripe. The freshman point guard who is expected to be a one-and-done lottery pick in the 2017 NBA Draft also had two steals, three rebounds and four assists compared to just one turnover.
Malik Monk went for 21 points, nailing 4-of-9 launches from 3-point range. Dominique Hawkins came off the bench to score 11 points, draining 3-of-4 from downtown, in only 17 minutes of playing time.
North Carolina (30-7 SU, 19-15 ATS) has been a single-digit favorite 16 times this year, cashing tickets at a 9-6-1 ATS clip. The Tar Heels advanced to the South Region finals thanks to Friday’s 92-80 win over Butler as seven-point ‘chalk.’ The 172 combined points sailed ‘over’ the 155-point total.
Roy Williams, who was coaching in the Sweet 16 for the 18th time in his career, saw his team race out to a 52-36 halftime lead. Luke Maye, a sophomore forward, already had a career-high 14 points at intermission. He would finish with his first double-double (16 points, 12 rebounds).
Unlike Arkansas, which battled back from a 17-point first-half deficit to put UNC on the ropes with a five-point lead at the three-minute mark last Sunday, Butler had no comeback in it Friday. Joel Berry II shook off his ankle woes to score a game-high 26 points. Justin Jackson added 24 points, five rebounds and five assists compared to merely one turnover.
John Calipari’s club has been an underdog twice this year, winning outright against UCLA on Friday and losing by 22 at Florida. Speaking of that loss at UF, UK hasn’t tasted defeat since then, winning 14 in a row.
This will be a rematch of a Dec. 17 matchup at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, where UK won by a 103-100 count as a one-point favorite. The 203 combined points soared ‘over’ the 171-point tally.
Monk went off for a career-high 47 points on amazing 8-of-12 shooting from 3-point land. Fox scored 24 points, grabbed four rebounds, made two steals and dished out 10 assists compared to two turnovers. Edrice Adebayo added 13 points and seven boards, but he was limited to 19 minutes of action before fouling out. Isaiah Briscoe was also in double figures with 10 points, seven boards and four assists with only one turnover.
Jackson scored 34 points to go with five rebounds and three assists without a turnover. Berry scored 23 points, dished out seven assists and grabbed five boards. However, Berry fouled out like Kennedy Meeks, who was only able to log 20 minutes of playing time. Meeks had 12 points and seven rebounds.
UK is ranked 10th in the nation in scoring, averaging 85.2 PPG. The ‘Cats are 15th in the country at defending the 3-point line, holding foes to 30.8 percent.
The ‘under’ is on an 11-2 run for UK to improve to 20-17 overall.
The ‘under’ is 20-14-1 overall for UNC, but the ‘over’ is 3-1 in its last four outings.
The winner will face Oregon in the national semifinals. The Ducks are in the Final Four for the first time since 1939.
Tip-off on CBS is scheduled for 5:05 p.m. Eastern.
**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**
— Kentucky is 3-9-1 ATS in its last 13 head-to-head meetings against UNC.
— Indiana hired Dayton’s Archie Miller as is its next head coach to replace Tom Crean after an up-and-down nine-year tenure. Crean was fired more than a week ago. Miller has enjoyed outstanding success with the Flyers after a stellar playing career at North Carolina St. Miller is the younger brother of Arizona head coach Sean Miller. This is a great hire for the Hoosiers, who haven’t won a national title since 1987.
— With Miller out at Dayton, I would expect the school to go after a couple of big names. If those attempts fail, the Flyers can do a lot worse than going with Miller’s long-time assistant Tom Ostrom, who got his start at Florida during Billy Donovan’s iconic tenure. Ostrom went to Dayton after serving as John Pelphrey’s top assistant at Arkansas. He was critical in the recruitment of both Mike Miller and Joakim Noah.
— How about that performance from Oregon last night? Damn! The Ducks took Kansas behind the woodshed in its own backyard, capturing a 74-60 victory as 6.5-point underdogs at Sprint Center in Kansas City. Tyler Dorsey’s remarkable play of late continued, as he dominated the game with 27 points on 9-of-13 shooting from the field, including 6 makes on 10 shots from long distance. Jordan Bell was incredible as well, producing 11 points, 13 rebounds, four assists and eight blocked shots.
— The other region final Saturday saw Gonzaga advance to its first Final Four in program history. Mark Few’s team cruised to an 83-59 win over 11th-seeded Xavier, which was trying to become the third No. 11 seed to get to the national semifinals (VCU and LSU were the others). The ‘Zags easily took the money as 8.5-point ‘chalk.’ Nigel Williams-Goss stole the show with 23 points, eight rebounds, two steals and four assists without a turnover. Johnathan Williams added 19 points, eight boards and three rejections.