With the South Regional having all four of their top seeds make the Sweet Sixteen, North Carolina had a tough matchup to contend with in the Butler Bulldogs. With the exception of a few minutes here and there, the Tar Heels dominated the whole game. Here are three things we learned.
Although the Tar Heels were able to shoot better than they did in their game against Arkansas, the really impressive side of UNC came defensively. They really locked down and limited what Butler was able to do with the ball. It made a good team that beat Villanova twice look fairly pedestrian for long stretches of the game.
Roy Williams certainly credits defense for UNC’s deep run in the tournament last year, and it has definitely been on display this March. Nate Britt has been particularly disruptive defensively, causing his fair share of steals and miscues. For a senior playing limited minutes, he’s found a great way to contribute to his team’s success.
In awe of All-American Justin Jackson
Time may very well be running out on getting to see Justin Jackson play in Carolina blue. If that’s the case, what a treat it has been. He is the first player in Tar Heel history to hit over 100 three-pointers in a season. The way that he has elevated his game as a junior has been nothing short of amazing.
When Jackson isn’t stuffing the scoresheet with his own points, he’s creating opportunities for his teammates with underrated passing and vision. Joel Berry II may very well be the motor that makes the Tar Heels go, but Jackson is the wheels. He is a special player, and we are fortunate that we have gotten to see him be so dynamic at such a high level for our favorite team.
Luke Maye has caught his fair share of criticism this year, and it hasn’t been totally undeserved. There have been some stretches that make even the most patience fans cringe a little bit. That being said, there have also been stretches of real promise. Maye stepped up to hit three three-pointers off the bench Friday night. He recorded the first double-double of his career in the Sweet Sixteen! The last Tar Heel to do that under those circumstances was Julius Peppers.
It’s easy to underrate Maye as a guy who may not quite be good enough to hang with more talented players, but all indications are that he has the drive to work hard enough to make up some of the difference. He was a huge catalyst for the team off the bench in their game against Butler, and he becomes much more important the more that Isaiah Hicks finds himself in foul trouble early on.
Bonus thing learned:
The ankle is okay
A baby blue-clad nation watched to see if Joel Berry’s ankle would be able to hold up after the Carolina point guard was clearly limited in his ability to play in the game against Arkansas. Berry was put in a boot upon the team’s return to Chapel Hill, and no one was quite sure how he’d be able to play a week after first injuring it.
Berry quickly put those fears to rest with his strong performance against the Bulldogs. He led all Tar Heels in points, exhibited his usual strength from behind the arc, and motored this Carolina team into the Elite Eight. Berry is the heart of the team, and they can really only go as far as he takes them. He showed that he’s up to the task, even if he still isn’t quite 100%. It’s worth a sigh of relief for now.