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Kentucky vs. North Carolina: Analysis, expert picks & predictions

How oddsmakers and experts view Kentucky vs. North Carolina.

NCAA Basketball: Utah at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

One of college basketball’s greatest matchups over the past decade has occurred when the Kentucky Wildcats and North Carolina Tar Heels take the court against each other.

The last two meetings have been especially exciting. Between Malik Monk’s 47 point performance in a 2016 Kentucky victory and Luke Maye’s last-second shot to win in the Elite 8 in 2017, the bar is set pretty high for this game.

On Saturday, the two historic programs will meet once again. This time, they’ll take the United Center hardwood in Chicago, IL for one of college basketball’s most profound events. Ohio State and UCLA will play in the first game of the CBS Sports Classic, with the Tar Heels and Wildcats as the night-cap college basketball fans have been waiting for.


Kentucky enters the matchup with an 8-2 record with road losses to Duke and Seton Hall. The Wildcats bring forth the nation’s 22nd-ranked offense, led by dominating big men PJ Washington and Reid Travis. Calipari also has the benefit of a lottery-projected wing, Keldon Johnson, that can score the basketball from anywhere on the floor.

Following the transfer of sophomore point guard Quade Green, Kentucky is suddenly thin in the backcourt. Ashton Hagans and Tyler Herro are expected to start going forward, with Immanuel Quickley making the most of his opportunities as the team’s sixth man. Redshirt freshman Jemarl Baker, who recently made his debut with the team, could also contribute as the season moves along.

On the flip side, North Carolina is 8-2 with road losses to fourth-ranked Michigan and Texas. The Tar Heels are even more exceptional than the Wildcats when scoring the ball, averaging 94.3 PPG for third-best in the country. Shooting nearly 50% from the floor and better than 37% from behind the arc, their offense will be a tall task for the Wildcats to handle.

North Carolina even has the 45.2-39.4 rebounding advantage on defense, though Kentucky does a lot of their damage on the offensive glass.

Despite their two losses, the Tar Heels have taken down No. 17 UCLA earlier in the season and last week defeated No. 4 Gonzaga. Kentucky has yet to post a signature win in the fall of 2018, leaving critics as well as fans questioning how good Kentucky actually is.

Expert Picks

  • ESPN’s Basketball Power Index is giving Kentucky a small 29.8% chance of victory. Considering this is a neutral-site game between two ranked teams, ESPN’s lop-sided BPI is rather alarming for Kentucky followers.
  • However, both and are in sync with ESPN.
  • Joe Boozell of is predicting a score of 86-78 in a winning effort from North Carolina.
  • Michael Beller of Sports Illustrated is going with the Tar Heels, too, in an 89-80 shootout.
  • KenPom gives the Tar Heels a 64-percent chance of winning and projects an 86-82 loss for the Wildcats.
  • TeamRankings projects an 83-80 UNC win.
  • numberFire is going with an 81-79 win for the Tar Heels.

Betting Odds and Trends

North Carolina is currently a 4.5 point favorite on Saturday, and they will look to win back to back games over Kentucky for the first time since 2007-2008.

Here are some betting trends for both teams:

  • Kentucky is 4-6 ATS this season
  • The total has gone UNDER in 5 of Kentucky’s 10 games this season
  • Kentucky is 0-2 SU and ATS in neutral site games this season
  • North Carolina is 5-3-2 ATS this season
  • The total has gone OVER in 8 of North Carolina’s 10 games this season
  • North Carolina is 1-1 SU and ATS in neutral site games this season
  • Kentucky is 6-2 ATS in its last 8 Saturday games.
  • Kentucky is 8-4 ATS in its last 12 games against a team with a winning percentage above .600.


Kentucky hardly ever fails to show up in the bigger games of their schedule. Aside from this year’s season-opening loss that Kentucky is tired of talking about, it’s hard to recall such a situation. While turmoil has certainly surrounded this year’s team, the Wildcats always seem to become better as the season rolls along.

However, while it’s okay to be optimistic about this specific Kentucky team, they play an early-2000’s style of basketball that involves pounding the paint and less three-point shooting. Their defense of the three-point shot has also been discouraging, which could ultimately plague them against the Tar Heels.

It’s hard to trust Kentucky in big games, though a confident North Carolina could also struggle with the hard-nosed Wildcats.

Final Score: North Carolina 71, Kentucky 67