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NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Preview: North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Butler Bulldogs

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UNC has to take on a tough Butler team in Memphis.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Butler vs Middle Tennessee James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

Late into the game last Sunday, it looked like North Carolina’s season was on the verge of ending. A late run managed to get the Tar Heels over the line and into the Sweet 16. Considering the situation UNC was in, it’s fortunate that they are here. However, it’s not going to get any easier.

Waiting for them in the regional semifinal in Memphis is Butler. The Bulldogs went 25-8 this season, picking up wins over 11 tournament teams in the regular season.

The received the #4 seed in the South region and beat #13 Winthrop and #12 Middle Tennessee in their opening two games. They were in control for most of the Winthrop game, and only a garbage time rally by the Eagles got the final margin to 12 points. Against Middle Tennessee, the Bulldogs never trailed, but never truly put the game away until late.

Butler’s leading scorer and rebounder is Kelan Martin, who goes for 16.0 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. The junior forward can also step out and hit 35.2% from three, attempting a little over five threes per game.

Funnily enough, Martin leads both categories despite coming off the bench. Martin was a preseason first team All-Big East player, but following a loss to Creighton on January 31, he has come off the bench. However even while coming off the bench, he still plays starter-level minutes.

More players to watch for the Bulldogs are Andrew Chrabascz and Kamar Baldwin. The senior forward Chrabascz is Butler’s second leading scorer at 11.1 points per game. Baldwin averages 10 a game on 49.3% shooting as a freshman.

There’s Avery Woodson, who goes for 8.9 per game, but is a 42.9% three-point shooter. Former NC State guard Tyler Lewis is also still around, playing 21.8 minutes a game for the Bulldogs. Butler is a fairly balanced team.

Butler is going to try and keep the pace pretty slow, as that is what they do. They are the 289th ranked team in terms of tempo at Kenpom. They’re not quite Virginia slow (literally no one is), but they also aren’t going to try and run with Carolina.

One thing Butler has been pretty good at this season is limiting opponent’s rebounds. This season they’ve allowed opponents getting just 24.5% of offensive rebounds. They themselves don’t get a lot of offensive rebounds, but that probably has to do with wanting to get back on defense to control the pace.

The Bulldogs have also won the last two meeting against North Carolina. In 2014, Butler beat UNC in the Bahamas 74-66, while in 2012 Butler won against them in Maui 82-71. Martin, Chrabascz, and Tyler Wideman remain for the Bulldogs from the 2014 win. The main thing Butler did in both of those wins was control the glass. Both of those Butler teams were one of the country’s best rebounding teams, while this year’s seems not quite at that level.

A big advantage North Carolina will have is size. 6-10 Nate Fowler plays 12 minutes a game, but the rest of Butler’s regulars are 6-8 and under. The Bulldogs allow opponents to shot over 50% from two, which is a pretty good thing if UNC can get the ball to their bigs.

Butler’s offense is a solidly efficient one. They’re not elite from three, but can knock them down. They’re middle of the pack in free throw attempts per game. They do most of their damage inside the arc.

If North Carolina manages to play the game at their pace, then they should have success. If Butler does slow it down, the Tar Heels can still have success. If UNC can get the ball into Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, and the bench bigs, Carolina should be able to do work inside. Butler may be good at limiting rebounds, but they not as good as either of the previous Bulldog teams that beat UNC.

If North Carolina gets over reliant on the three, they could easily get tripped up. UNC can be a pretty good three-point shooting team, but Butler isn’t going to let them get easy looks. Also if the Carolina big men get in foul trouble or can’t assert themselves on the boards again, Butler has the team to punish them.

Odds are when you reach the Sweet 16, you’re going to have to face a good opponent. Butler is definitely that.