North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Iona Gaels Pick

March 22, 9:20 PM EDT

Betting Odds

Point Spread: 
UNC -23

North Carolina once again finds themselves a top seed in the NCAA Tournament. No. 16 Iona is thrilled to be included, but face the tall task of taking on a No. 1 seed. This is the fourth straight year that the Gaels are dancing into the tournament. North Carolina enters its 50th NCAA Tournament and a No. 1 regional seed for the 17th time. The teams will face off in the first round Friday night in Midwest Region action in Columbus, Ohio. The Tar Heels are huge favorites in this game.

Top-Seeded Tar Heels

“It’s special to be a No. 1 seed,” coach Roy Williams said. “The most special thing is to see the way our kids reacted when they saw our name as No. 1 seed, and they put North Carolina up there. I just love the way they were genuinely excited. … We’re playing in the NCAA Tournament, and people think we’ve had a pretty good year.”

Gaels Huge Underdog

Iona (17-15) enters the tournament on a 10-game winning streak, holding the top seed and winning three times in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament. The final of those came against Monmouth, which is coached by former North Carolina point guard King Rice. The Gaels didn't look much like an NCAA Tournament team for a chunk of the season, and now the task appears more difficult.

“It’s a great opportunity to play against one of the best teams in the country,” Gaels coach Tim Cluess said. “I got to watch them on TV the other night against Duke, and we look forward to the challenge.”

The Gaels ought to know something about that. Cluess is taking the team to the tournament for the sixth time in eight years. Last year, it was a first-round meeting with Duke.

"You've got to be better for two hours, and everything has to break your way," Cluess said. "You've got to believe you have a chance when it's March. That's what makes basketball fun.

"North Carolina is a loaded team, a great basketball team, coached extremely well, that we obviously know. Size-wise they're going to be a challenge. Speed-wise they're a challenge."

Iona’s winning streak followed a four-game losing skid. North Carolina hasn’t lost consecutive games this season, and the only way that would happen is if it falls to the Gaels on Friday night.

Williams said the Tar Heels have played with the right mindset during the past two months after a humbling blowout home loss to Louisville in January. He doesn’t want a drop-off in intensity now.

“I think a couple of things are really simple,” Williams said. “We have to respect everyone and fear no one. We have to be ready to play the first day. If you play your tail off the first day, perhaps they’ll let you stay around and play somebody else.”

UNC vs Iona Prediction 03/22/2019

North Carolina is 3-1 all-time against Iona, winning the last meeting in November 2007 as part of the Las Vegas Invitational. This is the first clash in the NCAA Tournament. The Iona-North Carolina winner goes against the Utah State-Washington winner in Sunday’s second round. The Tar Heels win this game by 30+.

Free Pick: 
Take North Carolina -23
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