NCAA Basketball Odds: UNC at Illinois

By: Willie Bee | Monday, November 29, 2010
Tyler Zeller

Tyler Zeller leads UNC into Assembly Hall for the matchup with Illinois.

The ACC/Big Ten Challenge continues Tuesday night at Assembly Hall in Champaign where the Illinois Fighting Illini host the North Carolina Tar Heels.  ESPN will carry the tip starting at 6:30 p.m. PT.

Originally expected to be a matchup of top 25 schools, that won't be case on Tuesday after the Tar Heels fell out of both polls released on Monday.  North Carolina was No. 9 on the preseason coaches list and 25th in both rankings last week.  But a 4-2 start straight up, and 1-3 against the college basketball odds, has Roy Williams' squad in an early funk after missing the NCAA Tournament with a disappointing 2009-10 campaign.

Illinois (6-1 SU, 4-3 ATS) started the season 16th but has since dropped to No. 20 in the AP poll, 21st in ESPN/USA Today.  Like the Heels, the Illini went to the NIT after missing out on March Madness due to a 2-6 SU close to the regular season.  Both schools saw their NIT runs end in losses to Dayton, with UNC falling 79-68 in the championship.

Bruce Weber brings the Illini into this one on a three-game win streak since their only loss of the season, a 90-84 overtime thriller to Texas on Nov. 18.  That contest came at Madison Square Garden in the 2K Sports Classic with Illinois four-point chalk.

The Illini bounced back the very next night for an 80-76 win over Maryland, just failing to cover the 4½-point spread.  They have followed up with a 73-47 laugher versus Yale as 24½-point favorites and a 78-63 road win and cover last Saturday at Western Michigan (plus 12½).

The loss to Texas was the worst shooting performance of the season for Illinois who hit less than 39 percent of their field goals in the defeat.  The Illini are sinking 49.5 percent on the season, 23rd in the country.  Five players are scoring in double digits, led by senior Demetri McCamey's 15.0 average. The 6-foot-3 guard is coming off his lowest output of the young campaign, just eight points on a 2-of-8 night from the field in Saturday's triumph.  He did dish a season-high 10 assists, however.

North Carolina saw a string of seven consecutive wins over Big Ten schools stopped by Minnesota a couple of weeks ago.  The Gophers hung a 72-67 number on the Heels who were 6½-point favorites in the game played in Puerto Rico.  The PR trip continued badly two nights later when UNC was felled by underdog Vanderbilt, 72-65.

The Tar Heels have since got back into the win column, though unimpressively.  They withheld a late challenge by NC-Asheville for an 80-69 win at home in an unlined game just before Thanksgiving, then had to rally to beat the College of Charleston on Sunday, 74-69.  North Carolina went off as 14-point spread faves in that one.

UNC has the inside game covered with 7-footer Tyler Zeller leading the team in scoring at 15.5 per game along with 7.8 boards.  Sophomore John Henson, 6-foot-10, is adding just over 10 points per contest and leading the Heels with an 11.0 rebounding mark.

The trouble has stemmed from 98 turnovers in six games, a 62 percent free throw mark and a defense that is in the bottom half of the country allowing 68.5 points per night.

The two schools last met in the 2005 ACC/Big Ten Challenge with Illinois pulling the 68-64 upset in Chapel Hill.  That was UNC's last defeat at the hands of a Big Ten team until the Minnesota game on Nov. 19.

The Big Ten eked out a 6-5 win in last year's interconference battle, the first time it had topped the ACC in the scheduled event that officially started in 1999.  One of those wins was Illinois', a 76-64 upset at Clemson as six-point 'dogs.  North Carolina earned a dubya with an 89-82 victory at home as two-point chalk over Michigan State, a rematch of the 2009 NCAA Championship.

The ACC holds a 67-41 overall advantage, going 23-28 on Big Ten floors.

North Carolina returns home after this game for another big contest this Saturday against the Kentucky Wildcats.  Illinois has a tough contest of its own the same day heading to Seattle to meet Gonzaga.

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