Elite 8 Predictions: Kansas Jayhawks vs. North Carolina Tar Heels

Jeff GrantContributor IMarch 24, 2012

ST. LOUIS, MO - MARCH 23:  :  :  :  Tyler Zeller #44 of the North Carolina Tar Heels dunks in the first half against Reggie Keely #30 and Walter Offutt #3 of the Ohio Bobcats during the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Midwest Regional Semifinal at Edward Jones Dome on March 23, 2012 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

The North Carolina Tar Heels (32-5) will be underdogs for just the second time this season when taking on the Kansas Jayhawks (30-6) in the Elite Eight round of the 2012 NCAA tournament inside the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.

Las Vegas oddsmakers had little choice but to establish the Tar Heels as 2.5-point underdogs due to the right wrist injury suffered by starting point guard Kendall Marshall in their Round of 32 victory over the Creighton Blue Jays.

The sophomore out of Dumfries, VA, is officially listed as questionable for this contest, as the program continues to seek its third NCAA championship in the last eight years.

North Carolina dropped a hard-fought 73-72 decision to the Kentucky Wildcats as 6.5-point road underdogs on Dec. 3 in its only other game when receiving points. 

The Tar Heels have registered an impressive 18-7 record in their previous 25 regional finals in the Big Dance, while posting a 28-17 against-the-spread (ATS) record in this event since 1997.

North Carolina owns a 6-3 all-time series lead versus Kansas, which includes both teams earning two wins when facing off in the tournament.

Sports bettors may get a bit turned off at the window in backing the Tar Heels due to their 1-6 ATS mark when playing on a neutral court as an underdog.

Kansas has failed to cover two of its three games in the tournament, including a lackluster 60-57 win over the N.C. State Wolfpack as 8.5-point favorites on Friday night.

The Jayhawks led all Big 12 teams in rebounding margin (+5.6) this year, but that number will be tested against a Tar Heels' squad that led the country in that category (+11.1).

Junior forward Thomas Robinson is the key player to watch for the favored side, as he was named Big 12 Player of the Year in averaging 17.7 points and 11.9 rebounds per game.

I'm going to side with the Tar Heels due to their 13-5 ATS record in their last 18 tournament games, while the Jayhawks are 3-7 ATS in the same situation.

Pick: North Carolina Tar Heels +2.5