North Carolina vs. UCLA NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Picks

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

Top sportsbooks have released their betting odds for Friday’s upcoming game between North Carolina and UCLA.

After decimating Marquette and taking down number one seed, defending champion Baylor, North Carolina is proving itself a force to be reckoned with. Like Baylor, UCLA went on a major run last March. In order to do so again, the Bruins will have to take down the streaking Tar Heels.

For reasons that I will explain, you should play the spread for this game.

North Carolina Tar Heels vs. UCLA Bruins

BruinsFriday, March 25, 2022 – 9:39 PM EDT at Wells Fargo Center

Strong Improvement

Oddsmakers are struggling to account for the extent to which North Carolina has improved. This improvement is evident in the team’s ongoing 6-1 ATS streak. Keep this trend in mind for your sports betting.

Brady Manek

Several things account for this improvement. One, generally, is the incorporation of new transfer players into the team. The key transfer player is former Sooner, Brady Manek.

Manek started the season as an inconsistent scorer, going from accumulating 20 points in a game to failing to reach double digits in the following game. Currently, however, he has scored 20 or more points in five of his last six games.

The one exception came in North Carolina’s only recent loss, a 72-59 clunker against Virginia Tech. In that game, Manek went 0-for-5 from three. Conversely, he had shot 40 percent or better from deep in UNC’s four previous games all of which it won.

Manek’s ability, as a power forward, to stretch the floor will be a weapon that, as I will discuss, will benefit UNC whereas UCLA lacks a similar sort of weapon.

Guard Play

You hear all the time about the importance of guard play in March. Guard play has certainly fueled North Carolina’s current improvement. Early in the season, Caleb Love and RJ Davis were really shooting guards who were trying to become point guards.

Both players have developed into reliable ball-handlers. During Baylor’s comeback in the second round, we saw the extent to which UNC relied on having both players on the court at the same time.Davis, especially, as developed into a legitimate point guard.

He leads the Tar Heels’ pick-and-roll offense as the key ball-handler who ably feels out, reads, and manipulates the defense. While one may claim that Davis is more important to the team’s offense, Love’s growth has also been tremendous.

More of a shot-taker than Davis, Love will focus more on his own scoring. However, the depreciation of his hero-ball tendencies coincides with his improved passing and decision-making abilities, both of which support the offense’s overall functionality.


North Carolina’s trajectory of defensive improvement has radically shifted as, after early-season struggles under a new head coach, developments in communication and chemistry have helped the team improve its efficiency to 42nd nationally.

While the team as a whole is playing better, dribble penetration is harder for opposing offenses to accomplish, which is a difficulty that UCLA cannot simply elude given its offensive reliance on achieving dribble penetration.

UNC’s improvement in deterring dribble penetration is evident in its strong ranking in defensive two-point percentage.

Manek and Bacot 

I alluded to the importance of North Carolina’s two bigs in its base package, the transfer Manek and center Armando Bacot. Relative to last year, Bacot has grown as a passer as evident in his improved assist rate. The center in the Tar Heels’ four-out-one-in attack, he’ll command the area in front of the paint while maintaining the awareness to pass the ball back out to a shooter if he needs to.

The super efficient Manek is often that shooter. They form a dangerous duo, very apt for high-low actions, that recalls Arizona. Like UNC, Arizona loves to run high-low stuff with its bigs. Arizona’s offensive success against UCLA — the Wildcats scored 84 points on March 12 in neutral territory against the Bruins — is promising for the Tar Heels.


On defense, the Tar Heels love to ice ball screens. Icing means keeping the opposing offense on either side of the court and so denying it the middle. One benefit of icing is that it allows for slower-footed bigs to remain effective on defense.

Bacot is thus able to remain closer to the basket where his length and athleticism contribute to his 125th national ranking in block rate. Given Bacot’s persistent proximity to the basket, an opposing offense that has bigs who can pop behind the arc will be relatively dangerous against the Tar Heels.

But UCLA lacks the bigs to take advantage of UNC’s icing. The Bruins rely on big guys at the center position who do not like to attempt threes. At power forward, Jaime Jaquez fails to convert 30 percent of his three-point attempts.

Leaky Black

In Leaky Black, the Tar Heels own a versatile lock-down defender. He will typically guard and then lock down the opponent’s top perimeter scorer. With Johnny Juzang battling an ankle injury, Black may focus on Jaquez.

At 6-8, Black doesn’t lack for length against the Bruins’ top power forward. In any case, Black’s statistical success against Duke star center Paolo Banchero shows that he can also handle taller players. This defensive weapon helps explain why you should invest in the Tar Heels for your NCAAB Picks.

Scoring Prediction: Tar Heels 80/Bruins 68
NCAAB Pick: Tar Heels +2.5 (-110) at Bet365