An all-ACC slate on Sunday will assure the nation’s most competitive conference will have two teams in the Final Four.
Virginia and Syracuse meet in the matinee, and conference champion North Carolina will take on Notre Dame in the finale.
Many argued Virginia shouldn’t be a No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region, but the Cavaliers have solidified their run to the Elite Eight in convincing fashion. North Carolina, the top seed in the East, is firing on all cylinders and finally playing like the true title contender many believed it was at the start of the season.
Yet it’s something of a surprise Notre Dame and Syracuse—despite each team's rich basketball history—are still playing.
As such, the spreads for Sunday’s games were the largest among the Regional Finals—Virginia opened as an eight-point favorite and UNC is an 8.5-point favorite, per Odds Shark.
RJ Bell of Pregame.com noted those odds should bode well for UVA and UNC:
RJ Bell @RJinVegas
Vegas favorites have won 42 of 52 games so far in the 2016 NCAA Tournament (29-23 Against The Spread)2016-3-25 21:52:44
With the tournament reaching its climactic stages, here are a few tips and predictions for Sunday’s ACC showdowns.
Syracuse Will Cover
Syracuse is coming off a 63-60 win over Gonzaga despite trailing most of the game and shooting just 36 percent.
At face value, it would seem the Orange are in for a long afternoon against one of the best defenses in the country. But a closer look at the matchup shows Syracuse should actually keep things close.
Even in a lackluster effort on offense in the Sweet 16, the Orange held the Bulldogs—one of the top scoring teams in the country—to just 44 percent. It also forced 15 turnovers and surrendered only nine.
In fact, its game-winning play came on defense, shared by NCAA March Madness:
The Orange have allowed just an average of just 53 points per game in their first three NCAA tournament wins, though Virginia will likely exceed that amount. The Cavaliers are predicted to score 69, per Odds Shark, which is well below their tournament average of 80.6.
In their lone meeting this season, on Jan. 24, the Cavaliers recorded a 73-65 victory at home. In that game, Syracuse trailed by just three points in the final minute before Virginia star Malcolm Brogdon sank a pair of free throws to make it a two-possession game and seal the victory.
It was one of the many close calls the Orange have had against the Cavaliers the past few seasons. In fact, as David Teel of the Daily Press pointed out, Virginia has had Syracuse's number in its first three seasons since leaving the Big East:
David Teel @DavidTeelatDP
Since joining #ACC in 2013, Syracuse basketball has beaten every league rival except #UVa. 0-3 versus Cavaliers.2016-3-26 19:26:33
Virginia is the better team, and Syracuse’s struggles on offense will ultimately prevent the Orange from seizing enough momentum for a win. But they should nonetheless keep things close and cover the eight-point spread.
North Carolina Will Dominate Notre Dame
North Carolina finally looked as advertised with its preseason distinction as the nation’s No. 1 team.
The Tar Heels dismissed surging Indiana with ease, 101-86, consistently leading by a comfortable 20 points in the latter stages.
They scored at will from beyond the arc and in the paint, as shown by NCAA March Madness:
The Tar Heels look like a team that could cut down the nets in Houston a week from Monday. Even Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey admitted his team's opponents on Sunday are the class of the remaining field, per Adam Zagoria of SNY:
Adam Zagoria @AdamZagoria
Mike Brey says North Carolina "is playing the best in the country right now." "We're excited about the challenge tomorrow."2016-3-26 19:44:38
UNC heads into the Elite Eight riding an eight-game winning streak, during which it is 6-2 against the spread, per Odds Shark (via Bleacher Report).
North Carolina hasn’t played any team higher than a fifth seed, but its opponents—Florida Gulf Coast, Providence and Indiana—all have an NCAA tournament pedigree.
And as recently as March 11, the Tar Heels dismantled the Fighting Irish, 78-47, in the ACC tournament semifinal en route to winning the conference postseason title.
North Carolina will win Sunday and do so in convincing fashion.
Check out Bleacher Report's live updating bracket to track your picks along the road to the Final Four.