There is no doubt that the second game in the Maui Invitational is going to be tougher for the UNC basketball team than the first one was, where the Heels defeated the first Bulldogs teamby 95 to 49. Tonight, with tip off being at 8:00 p.m. EST (televised on ESPN/ESPN3) the Tar Heels will meet their second Bulldogs squad, as #9 North Carolina (4-0) will take on Butler (2-1) at the Lahaina Civic Center. The winner will head to the final of this tournament, facing off with either Illinois or the host team, Chaminade.
Carolina has beaten Butler twice out of three times that these programs have met, with the last meeting being in 1994, and the Bulldogs have lost to ranked opponents in their last six of its last seven regular season games. But make no mistake, this game is going to be a tough one as Butler, unlike Miss. State, has a chance to stay with North Carolina, but, just like the other Bulldogs that the Tar Heels have faced, they have nothing to lose in this one. Or better said, since there is a chance at the title game in this match up, Butler has far less to lose than UNC does.
Here are my keys to this game…
Forget the last game. While it was a nice game to watch, the Tar Heels’ opponents are not going to be as easy as yesterday’s match up. And as such the squad needs to focus on the game at hand, and let go of the one just played.
Feed the post. Yes, this team shot the lights out from beyond the three in the last game, but with someone like James McAdoo, who can be the ACC Player of the Year, they need to give him the ball and let him go to work down low. Even more so, the two freshmen, Joel James and Brice Johnson, need to score more than a basket a piece against Butler. From what I saw in the game against Marquette, Butler likes to double team when the ball comes into the paint. McAdoo and Co. needs to be able to be react in the proper way and find the open man when this happens.
When the shot is there… take it. This team, if last couple of games was an indication of things to come, can hit the trey, and can do so on a regular basis. While, as I said above, I am firm believer that this team is going to go as far as McAdoo can take them, the fact that the Heels can hit from outside makes it so that the power forward can have more room to play in the paint. With three good shooters I believe that every night there is going to be at least one player on the perimeter who is going to be hot and if that is the case look out, this team can be dangerous.
Protect the rock. Even if the win last night was big time, for some stretches the players on the floor for head coach Roy Williams were sloppy with the basketball. That can not happen against Butler, who lives on playing good defense. The other thing is that Butler will try to slow down the game and that means UNC will be playing more half court basketball than they have all season long. With so many young players teaching patience might just be the toughest thing that coach Williams has to do this season.
The point. While this is the last point, it might be the one that is most crucial to this whole post. The Heels won easily last night, but the point guard play of freshman Marcus Paige was not as good as it should have been. He shot poorly, 1 for 7, and had just as many assists as he had turnovers (3) against an inferior opponent. He needs to step it up, and in a big way, against the Bulldogs.
In the end, this is going to be a lot closer than the one against Mississippi State, but that is not much of a prediction. The Las Vegas insiders have North Carolina as a nine points favorite over Butler and I think that the Heels will win by just a bit more, with the final being 75 to 64.