While not viewed as darlings of the NCAA tournament after sitting out the postseason a year ago due to academic issues, the Syracuse Orange are still the underdogs among the Final Four as they take on the North Carolina Tar Heels, who are listed as big 9.5-point betting favorites for Saturday at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.
The Heels are also +105 favorites (bet $100 to win $105) to win their sixth NCAA title in their record 19th Final Four appearance and fourth under head coach Roy Williams.
Williams led North Carolina to national championships in 2005 and 2009, and this year’s squad is the lone No. 1 seed to move on to the Final Four, out of the East Region. The Tar Heels did not have to play an opponent seeded higher than fifth in the previous four rounds due to upsets in the other side of the bracket, rolling to double-digit wins in each while averaging nearly 89.3 points.
The Tar Heels have covered the spread in their last three games, and the over is 3-1 for them in the Big Dance following a 10-3 run for the under, according to the OddsShark College Basketball Database.
The first No. 10 seed to ever make it to the national semifinals, Syracuse is the longshot of the group at 9/1 to win it all after getting as high as 1000/1 at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook in mid-January.
The Orange have covered the spread in their last five games, winning twice in the tourney straight up as underdogs after many questioned if they even belonged in the field with five losses in their last six. They lost to the Pittsburgh Panthers three times, including a 72-71 setback as four-point dogs in their opening game of the ACC tournament that seemed to seal their fate.
Instead, Syracuse squeezed in and was fortunate to play two lower-seeded teams in the Midwest Region following a 70-51 rout of the seventh-seeded Dayton Flyers in the first round, avoiding the second-seeded Michigan State Spartans, who were upset by the 15th-seeded Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders.
The big difference for the Orange in their last two games though is that they were able to rally back from huge deficits in the second half to survive. They trailed the 11th-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs by nine points in a 63-60 Sweet 16 win as four-point dogs and were down as many as 16 against the top-seeded Virginia Cavaliers in a 68-62 Elite Eight victory as eight-point dogs.
But can the Syracuse 2-3 zone defense hold North Carolina’s explosive offense in check during Saturday night's matchup in Houston? The two ACC schools met twice in the regular season with the Tar Heels winning both games but covering just once.
The only real chance the Orange have of advancing is to force the Heels to take a lot of 3-pointers and hope they miss most of them (they ranked last in the ACC in 3-point shooting). If that does not happen, North Carolina will win its 10th straight and cover for the eighth time in nine games.