Marquette vs. North Carolina NCAA Tournament First Round Picks

Leaky Black #1 of the North Carolina Tar Heels attempts a shot. Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images/AFP.

In the East Regional, we have a No. 8 vs. No. 9 matchup with North Carolina meeting Marquette. Both arrive in the Lone Star State off lackluster performances and need a victory to keep playing. Which way to lean at the top-rated sportsbooks?

After winning six in a row (5-1 ATS) and 12 of 14, North Carolina looked like a real threat to win the ACC tournament, going up against Virginia Tech. The Tar Heels came out sluggish, the Hokies were hot as heck and lit them up, with the Tar Heels crumbling 72-59 in the semifinals.

After putting together a 7-1 SU and ATS stretch starting in early January, Marquette stumbled to the finish at 3-4 and 1-6 ATS. The Golden Eagles defense has lost a step later in the season and that has shown especially on the road.

Marquette Golden Eagles vs. North Carolina Tar Heels

Thursday, March 17, 2022 – 04:30 PM EDT at Dickies Arena

The betting odds at Bet365 have North Carolina as a three-point favorite with a total of 152. Marquette blasted the Tar Heels 13 months ago at Chapel Hill 83-70 as 9.5-point underdogs. Though some of the same players are back, the coaching staffs and styles of play are different.

Marquette Hopes to Have Defensive Energy

Shaka Smart’s strategy is having a disruptive defense that generates turnovers which can lead to immediate points or cause hesitation by the opposing team on passes and shot selection. For two-thirds of the season, Smart’s squad had a complete buy-in and though they got beat from time to time, the effort was there.

As the season was winding down, Marquette looked more tired, particularly away from Milwaukee, as they allowed opposing clubs to shoot almost 50% in the final five away outings. This style of play is taxing and if the defense is a half tick slower and/or the legs are a little heavy, that could mean layups on one end of the floor and shots clanging when shooting.

The Golden Eagles have also been sloppy on offense, with 13 or more turnovers in four of their past five contests. Smart hopes the week off will provide renewed energy against a North Carolina outfit that has good, not great guard play.

North Carolina a Head-Scratcher All Season

Everyone in Tar Heel country realized things would be different with Hubert Davis compared to Roy Williams, though Davis had been an assistant for some time under him. What was not expected was North Carolina would find its footing or play well for a series of games and would next fall flat on their face, almost always unexpectedly.

When this happens to almost any club it usually is because of inconsistent guard play against the wrong opponent.

Caleb Love, R.J. Davis, and Leaky Black are all good players. What gets them out of sync is more physical play before they can set up the offense. When the offense is humming, the ball goes through forward Armando Bacot and the guards are useful outlets for shots or moving the ball around or cutting to the basket. Things bog down when every dribble and pass is challenged, which is precisely how Marquette will play.

The Tar Heels guards have to play head up, seek dribble penetration since there are holes in the Golden Eagles that can be exploited.

What Is the Best Side to Be On?

Marquette’s defensive pressure and the offense of Justin Lewis and Darryl Morsell will keep them in the game for 30+ minutes.

As the game moves forward, North Carolina will figure out more ways to get the ball to Bacot and Brady Manek, both in the paint and on the perimeter. With Love and Davis, the Tar Heels have two point guards and if they maintain their poise, they can open up a working margin by the under four-minute time out of the game.

The Golden Eagles will make it tough late but the Heels will make enough free throws to be the right choice for college basketball picks.

NCAAB Pick: North Carolina -3 (-110) at Bet365