Battle 4 Atlantis: North Carolina vs Butler, 12:00 PM, ESPN2
After two fairly easy wins at home and a slightly tougher test on the road against Davidson, the Tar Heels take a 3-0 record into a Wednesday match-up against Butler in the quarterfinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament.
If this match-up between UNC and Butler in November being played at a warm location rings a bell it's because it has happened before. As the N&O's Andrew Carter notes, UNC faced Butler in the semifinals of the Maui Invitational in 2012. Then a young Tar Heel team amid a rebuilding year of sorts got steamrolled in the first half to trail 35-18 at halftime. The Butler lead eventually reached 29 points before a furious UNC rally whittled it down to six before settling as a 82-71 Tar Heel loss. It was a classic example of UNC getting run off the floor early before rallying then falling short.
With Butler's three point shooting being such an important factor in the Bulldogs' Maui win two years ago, UNC's attention will again be drawn to the perimeter defense. 6-6 junior Kellen Dunham, he of the 5-9 shooting from three two years ago, will test the Tar Heel defenders. Dunham is 10-15 on three pointers so far this season including 5-7 from three in Butler's opening win against Maine. He shot 35% on threes last season with over 200 attempts. The only other Bulldog to assert himself on the perimeter through three games is Alex Barlow with 3-8 shooting so far and 37.4% shooting last season.
Despite not depending heavily on threes in getting to 3-0 this season, Butler lacks the size or depth to compete with UNC on the interior. That means a the Bulldogs will shot its fair share of threes and look to execute well offensively in an effort to create easy looks. UNC's defense, while sporting great length, is also made up of several players still finding their way around on that end of the floor. If Butler can pull big men away from the basket it will complicate matters. Isaiah Hicks struggled against Davidson staying with big men as they moved away from the basket. Kennedy Meeks fared well while Brice Johnson struggled with foul trouble.
In what will be a recurring theme this season, UNC will look to dominate the boards, especially on the offensive end. The popular phrase "UNC's best offense is a missed shot" can be accurate at times though not entirely. The Tar Heels have plenty of offensive competence beyond just the missed shot though the offensive rebounding is incredibly important. The early trend for UNC has been a return to dominant interior play and the Heels keying off that. Kennedy Meeks has recorded double-doubles in back-to-back games and Brice Johnson, providing he can stay out of foul trouble, will be a tough match-up for the Bulldogs
Because Meeks and Johnson have been so good early, Marcus Paige operate under the radar a bit. Paige has yet to lead Heels in scoring this season and scored in double digits in two of three games. However, Paige's approach to the games so far may be similar to his in-game approach which gave birth to "Second Half Paige" There hasn't been a need for Paige to take a game over during the Heels 3-0 start so he has been content work within the offense and facilitate for others. With UNC facing three tough games in three days, the Battle 4 Atlantis may provide the first opportunity for the Tar Heel junior to assert himself.
UNC 81 Butler 67