Louisville-North Carolina an Alternative to Mediocre Sunday Afternoon NFL Lineup

russ-smithWith the 14th meeting between New England’s Tom Brady and Denver’s Peyton Manning not kicking off until 8:30 p.m., Patriots fans could be looking for an alternative to a mediocre Sunday afternoon NFL slate — although some Pats backers will no doubt keep an eye on the Panthers-Dolphins matchup.

There’s a likely matchup of college basketball bluebloods at 1 p.m. Sunday in the championship game of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off in Connecticut as Louisville and North Carolina should meet in a possible Final Four preview. The Cards will open as around 8-point Bovada favorites.

It’s only a likely matchup because Louisville and North Carolina must win Saturday to set up the showdown. The Cardinals (4-0) have opened with blowouts of Hartford, Cornell, Hofstra and Charleston, all in Louisville. The Cards are 15-2 at Bovada to repeat as national champions. They are currently No. 3 in the nation and have won a national-best 20 straight games.

The Cardinals lost center Gorgui Dieng and guard Peyton Siva from last year’s team but look loaded again with players like Russ Smith, Final Four MVP Luke Hancock, Chane Behanan, Montrezl Harrell and Wayne Blackshear returning as well as two highly touted newcomers in junior college transfer Chris Jones and freshman Terry Rozier. Smith leads the team at 18.8 points per game while Jones is averaging 13.0 points and 4.3 assists.

Louisville, the heavy favorite to win the American Athletic Conference before heading to the ACC next season, should have little trouble in Saturday’s semifinals against Fairfield. The Stags, of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, have been one of the nation’s worst offensive teams in the early going and lost by 10 to a Hartford team that Louisville crushed 87-48.

North Carolina is no lock to beat Richmond on Saturday. The Heels dropped to 24th in this week’s AP poll and to 30-1 to win the national title following a shocking 83-80 home loss to Belmont on Nov. 17. The Tar Heels had no answer for Belmont’s J.J. Mann, who had 28 points and the go-ahead 3-pointer with 13.1 seconds remaining. North Carolina was just 22 of 48 from the free-throw line, its most misses in 50 years. It was UNC’s first home non-conference loss in eight years, just its second non-conference home loss under Roy Williams and Belmont’s first victory over a ranked team in a decade. Richmond, of the Atlantic 10, beat Belmont 69-61 on Nov. 11.

UNC also struggled to beat Holy Cross on Nov. 15, and it’s clear the Heels badly miss P.J. Hairston, arguably the team’s best player, and Leslie McDonald. Both remain sidelined as the NCAA investigates their eligibility issues, and the NCAA usually takes its time. Hairston was the team’s leading scorer last year at 14.6 points per game, and McDonald was the top reserve, averaging 7.2 points. They were good 3-point shooters, and the Heels are struggling from long range, hitting 30 percent behind the arc. Belmont outscored UNC 45-6 on 3-pointers.

Louisville and UNC have combined for eight national titles and will meet at least once a year in the ACC, but the two squads haven’t met since the 2008 Elite Eight.

Photo via Twitter/@ULFlyingCard

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