North Carolina vs. Wagner Best Bet and Prediction for 3/21 March Madness Game

The Tar Heels' defense has a massive edge in this first-round matchup.

Armando Bacot averaged a double-double for the Tar Heels this season
Armando Bacot averaged a double-double for the Tar Heels this season / Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels (27-7) take on the No. 16 Wagner Seahawks (17-15) on Thursday, March 21, at 2:45 PM ET in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament in the West Region. It's a fantastic bounce-back spot for the Tar Heels after a disappointing loss in the ACC Tournament final and they're massive favorites as a result.

Wagner finished sixth in the NEC this year, though rattled off a series of upsets to win the conference tournament. It's a nice story, but there's no reason that North Carolina shouldn't decimate their overmatched foe.

With tougher matchups ahead, the Tar Heels should take an early lead and coast, though my favorite bet is on the total rather than the spread. Let's take a look at the updated odds before diving into the matchup.

North Carolina vs. Wagner Odds, Spread and Total

North Carolina vs. Wagner Best Bet and Prediction

Statistically, the Seahawks are one of the worst teams in the country. They're 332nd in KenPom's adjusted offensive efficiency while ranking 347th in effective field goal percentage (45.1%) and 338th in free throw rate (26.4%).

Those terrible numbers came despite playing in a relatively uncompetitive conference. Now, they'll take on one of the best defenses in college basketball that comes from a tough ACC with experience against much better offenses.

Thus, it's extremely difficult to imagine Wagner putting up many points. The Tar Heels are 14th in defensive effective field goal percentage (46.4%) and one of the nation's best rebounding teams. Wagner is 361st in pace too, meaning they'll play as slowly as possible while missing most of their shots.

That sounds like a recipe for an under. The one thing Wagner does well is three-point defense. They're ninth in that category (29.8%), so we shouldn't see North Carolina score in bunches from outside either.

The under is 6-1 in the Seahawks' last seven contests. In a game that North Carolina should control from start to finish, expect the Tar Heels to pull their starters late to keep everyone fresh and keep the score down.

Take the under and let's start March Madness rooting for a glorious, yet ugly offensive showing.

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Odds refresh periodically and are subject to change.