NCAA Tournament 2019 odds: Is North Carolina's price too good to ignore?
NCAA Tournament 2019 odds: Is North Carolina's price too good to ignore?
The North Carolina Tar Heels are on a tear against ranked teams and have climbed into the AP poll top five. Should bettors pay attention to their NCAA title odds?
On Saturday, after North Carolina's second straight impressive win over a top-20 team, Tar Heel freshman Nassir Little was tired of people (figuratively) betting against the Tar Heels. He'd just scored 18 points against Florida State, his second most in ACC play, just days after UNC trounced top-ranked Duke on the road. But nobody seemed to care about the wins. And when he was asked in front of a small media contingent about how those same media members portrayed the team, he didn't hold back: People are sleeping on the Tar Heels, he said, and he only had one goal: "be so good nobody can ignore you." <a href="https://twitter.com/jleland_/status/1099469540583505922" class="embedly-card" data-card-width="100%" data-card-controls="0">Embedded content: https://twitter.com/jleland_/status/1099469540583505922</a> Pollsters and oddsmakers *are* taking notice. On Monday, the Tar Heels (22-5 straight up, 17-8-2 against the spread) jumped three spots to No. 5 in the AP Poll, marking their highest ranking since Dec. 18, 2017 and their fifth consecutive season reaching the top five. This comes on the heels of two blowout victories, at No. 3 Duke (88-72) and against No. 18 Florida (77-59), two of UNC's 10 wins in its past 11 games. The Tar Heels are 8-3 ATS in those games with four wins against ranked opponents, part of North Carolina's 11th-ranked strength of schedule, ahead of Tuesday's game against Syracuse (+12). __Daily college hoops contest:__ [Three spreads, three totals, win prizes](https://betchicago.chalkline.com/games/college-hoops-pick-3-spreads-totals) Over the past week, the Westgate cut the Tar Heels' title odds from 16/1 to 12/1, the number at which they opened last April. Those odds make UNC the sixth betting choice on the Westgate's futures board. ## Should bettors pull trigger on a UNC national championship? This would hardly be an NCAA futures discussion without addressing the much ballyhooed "title team threshold," courtesy of Ken Pomeroy, that many use to eliminate potential title contenders. Since KenPom started tracking data in 2002, 16 of the 17 champions have featured a top-20 offense, and 12 of them ranked inside the top seven offensively. On defense, all 17 ranked in the top 20, and the last seven winners ranked in the top 11. Only four teams this year check both boxes: Duke (2/1 odds), Virginia (8/1), Michigan State (10/1) and North Carolina (12/1). __MORE:__ [Glaring weakness of Duke, UNC, other potential top seeds in NCAA Tournament](https://www.betchicago.com/ncaa-tournament-2019-odds-top-16-seeds-weakness-duke-virginia-gonzaga) As of Tuesday, the Tar Heels own the nation's seventh-ranked offense and 10th-ranked defense. Of the four teams to meet those marks, only Michigan State has faced a tougher schedule. But if four teams meet the "title threshold," what separates UNC? Rebounding, for one. The Tar Heels rank in the top 25 in offensive and defensive rebounding percentage -- no other title contender approaches those numbers. Naismith Award finalist Luke Maye (9.9 rebounds per game) ranks in the top 25 nationally. Rebounding is staple of Roy Williams title teams: the 2017 national champs ranked in the top 25 on both the offensive and defensive glass, while the 2005 and 2009 teams were top 25 on the offensive end. __MORE:__ [How potential NCAA Tournament field performs ATS](https://www.betchicago.com/ncaa-tournament-odds-betting-field-ats) That wasn't enough for last year's group, which ranked third in offensive rebounding but was trounced by post-heavy Texas A&M in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. But this year's team ranks 15th in defensive rebounding, too, a huge reason why the 2019 Tar Heels are Williams' best defensive squad since 2010-11. North Carolina is one of the country's best passing teams, too, as per usual behind its patented motion offense. The Tar Heels are recording an assist on 61.3 percent of their possessions, 13th in the nation. It's the best assist rate for UNC since 2006, and only first-ranked Michigan State boasts better ball movement among the Westgate's six title favorites. Passing, rebounding, defense... It's a recipe that works in the tournament, when possessions are at a premium. Are there weaknesses in Chapel Hill? Sure. This year's roster is younger than UNC teams of yesteryear, and youthful errors like turnovers, missed free throws and poor perimeter defense have cropped up with this group -- all potential killers against an upstart tourney team. __MORE:__ [Wofford, Lipscomb among five Cinderella teams to target ahead of NCAA Tournament](https://www.betchicago.com/ncaa-tournament-2019-cinderella-ats-bracket-busting-teams-selection-sunday) Senior Cameron Johnson, another Naismith finalist, has excelled with 16.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game, with a top-25 offensive rating per KenPom. But a reliance on freshmen Coby White and Nassir Little, whose game has come and gone this season, could make this team boom-or-bust come March. ## Duke still the one to beat The best argument against betting on UNC, Michigan State or any of the secondary title contenders is Duke. The Blue Devils remain the the favorite, although their odds to win the NCAA Tournament were lengthened from 9/5 to 2/1 in the wake of the UNC loss and concurrent injury to superstar Zion Williamson. It appears to be a minor knee strain, which a contrarian might view as good news for a Blue Devil rotation that can learn to win without him before re-inserting him into a lineup that ranks third in offensive efficiency and fifth in defensive efficiency. __MORE:__ [How Zion Williamson's knee injury impacts Duke's title odds, point spreads](https://www.betchicago.com/zion-williamson-knee-injury-duke-title-odds) The Tar Heels have another shot at Duke on March 9 and perhaps another one in the ACC Tournament, where these teams have split their meetings the past two years. UNC has as good a chance as anyone to upend Duke in the Big Dance -- especially in a third or fourth meeting of the season, when facing Duke's NBA lottery trio becomes less daunting. Perhaps the only contender that can truly keep pace with Duke (16th in tempo) is UNC, which features the nation's fifth-highest pace and fastest in the Roy Williams era. __MORE:__ [Five slumping teams to fade now and in NCAA Tournament](https://www.betchicago.com/ncaa-tournament-2019-teams-bet-against) This North Carolina team probably isn't as talented as the ones in 2005, 2009 or 2017, but those core Carolina tenets -- rebounding, passing, pace -- are even sharper this year for a team that's reach the title game three times in the past decade, more than any other school. At 12/1 odds, the Tar Heels are a clear top-five team with a championship profile. Are they a steal with the sixth-shortest odds? Probably not. But if you're looking for a Duke alternate, there's no better foil than UNC. __Bookmark us:__ [Daily college basketball betting previews](https://www.betchicago.com/ncaa-basketball-betting)2019-02-26T14:33:51.516Z2019-02-26T09:33-05:00