The final game of the college basketball season has arrived. Kansas and North Carolina will square off in the national championship game tonight in New Orleans. It is bittersweet to wrap up another college hoops season, but I am extremely excited for this one.
Those who have been reading my work all year know that I graduated from the University of Kansas. You might even remember that I have a 14/1 ticket on Kansas to win the national championship. So this could be an unforgettable night, if KU captures its first national title since 2008 to give me a nice payday.
But will that happen? That’s what we are here to find out. The Jayhawks are 4-point favorites against North Carolina at WynnBET, with an over/under of 152 total points. Make sure to place your bets on your WynnBET app before tipoff at 9:20 p.m. ET.
How Kansas can cover
Kansas was dominant from start to finish in its 81-65 win over Villanova on Saturday. The Jayhawks jumped out to a 10-0 lead and never looked back. They did shoot 54.2% from long range while averaging nearly 1.4 points per possession. That level of efficiency is unlikely to be replicated.
But the Jayhawks don’t need to be as efficient tonight. Villanova played at such a slow pace, though this game will be much faster. Most importantly, KU’s biggest strength can take advantage of a North Carolina weakness.
According to Synergy Sports Technology, KU is averaging 14.9 points per game in transition. UNC ranks 260th in the nation defensively on that end. Taylor Eldridge of the Kansas City Star wrote a detailed breakdown on this area of the game that I would highly recommend reading. After not scoring in transition against Villanova, I fully expect Kansas to get plenty of production on the run tonight.
It should also be noted how much the Jayhawks have improved defensively. Kansas now ranks No. 17 in adjusted defensive efficiency on Kenpom, but that wasn’t always the case. Using BartTorvik’s advanced metrics, the Jayhawks have ranked No. 4 in adjusted defensive efficiency since Feb. 1, but ranked No. 52 in that category from the start of the season until the end of January.
That level of improvement is crucial, especially against a team as hot as North Carolina is right now.
How North Carolina can cover
While Kansas might be the best team in basketball via Torvik’s metrics since Feb. 1, North Carolina actually tops the list if you adjust the timeline to March 1st through this past weekend.
That helps explain how the Tar Heels, who are a No. 8 seed, have managed to reach the championship game. North Carolina has won 11 of its last 12 games, including a pair of victories over Duke. The latest rivalry victory was a 80-74 decision on Saturday to reach the final and end Coach K’s career.
One area where UNC could have a distinct advantage tonight is on the glass. North Carolina ranks 74th in the nation in offensive rebound rate with a clip of 31.3%. On the other end, the Tar Heels are holding opponents to a 21.6% offensive rebound rate. The latter number ranks No. 2 in the nation.
Armando Bacot, who hurt his ankle in the win over Duke, is a big reason for North Carolina’s success on the glass. If healthy, he will be a handful for Kansas bigs David McCormack and Mitch Lightfoot.
I’d expect North Carolina to look for the 3-ball as well. The Tar Heels are shooting 36.2% from deep, a number that ranks 50th in the nation, and could crack KU’s defense a bit. Similar to Kansas, North Carolina had a hot shooting performance in the Final Four that probably won’t be repeated. ShotQuality actually gave UNC a 17% post-game win expectancy on Saturday.
In a shocking turn of events, I am picking Kansas. I won’t place a bet for this game because of my 14/1 future and I don’t need to be further invested in tonight’s matchup.
But I would lean Kansas to cover the 4-point spread. Based on my power ratings, I would have made this number 4.5. Kenpom and Torvik believe in Kansas a bit more, as both prognosticators project a 6-point win for the Jayhawks. UNC was a 6-point underdog to Baylor just two weeks ago, which was the last time it squared off against a No. 1 seed.
I would expect KU to have its way against North Carolina in transition. North Carolina might have the advantage on the glass, but Kansas has the length to at least put up a fight in that area. If the Jayhawks look as locked in as they were on Saturday, I don’t see why they can’t win this one by a comfortable margin.
Prediction: Kansas 79, North Carolina 71.