North Carolina took care of business Monday night against Mississippi State, dominating the Bulldogs 95-49 in the first round of the EA Sports Maui Invitational.
This was by far the most complete game that the Heels have played so far this year, as they put on a clinic offensively against a team that was short-handed from the get go.
Now, UNC (4-0) will play against Butler (2-1) Tuesday night at 8:00pm eastern time in Maui's Lahaina Civic Center in the semifinals of this years' event.
NEXT UP, THE BULLDOGS
North Carolina draws Butler thanks of course to its own win, as well as a wild win the Bulldogs got earlier in the day Monday against Marquette in the opener of the quarterfinals from Lahaina.
In what would be a fantastic finish to start off the tournament, Butler was down by two with eight seconds left after Junior Cadougan missed a second free throw attempt.
This is the last team that one would want to give a chance to at the end of the game, as they have come through over and over again.
Rotnei Clarke was able to get the ball up the court and got his shot off in time and the next thing he knew, his teammates were dog-piling on top of him for the game winning three-point basket.
With its first Maui game in the books, the underdog Bulldogs will be on cloud nine and head into the game against UNC with high expectations and confidence, looking to improve on their record of losing six out of its last seven against ranked opponents.
The 2-1 Bulldogs, who are going to be members of the Atlantic 10 for the first time this season, knocked off Elon by 15 points in its season opener, and then lost to Xavier on the road by 15 points before heading out to Hawaii.
Brad Stevens' Bulldogs---NCAA Tournament runners-up in both 2010 and 2011---want to play inside-out, but that doesn't necessarily mean having to throw it over the top to Andrew Smith or Khyle Marshall.
Smith, Marshall, and Roosevelt Jones, Butler's starting frontcourt, is the most experienced part of the Bulldogs squad and arguably the most talented, as they combined to average over 28 points and 10 rebounds a game a season ago.
Marshall, a junior forward, is the guy UNC really has to handle. He averaged 15 points per game last season and is capable of beating them in a few different ways.
The Bulldogs can shoot the ball well from outside the arc, even though they weren't on target against Marquette, shooting just 4-of-21 from behind the arc.
Clarke, a transfer from Arkansas, and freshman Kellen Dunham came in to cure Butler's outside shooting, when the Bulldogs shot worse than 30 percent from beyond the 3-point arc last year as they failed to again reach the highs of the 2010 and 2011 seasons.
While Clarke's big shot Monday made national headlines, Dunham has quietly emerged as a key contributor on this Butler squad, averaging 11 points per game so far. Dunham scored 18 points in the win over Elon and 11 in the loss at Xavier.
Bench play will also be a key for Butler against the Tar Heels, as they will need more production than they did in the game against Marquette, as the starters combined for 70 of the 72 points Monday night. They will need to continue to shoot well again when they play against North Carolina.
UNC got some dominating performances off the bench Monday from guys like Leslie McDonald, who scored a game-high 21 points against MSU, as well as P.J. Hairston, who had 18 points, four three-pointers, and a three-quarter length shot just before halftime that got everybody going and made all the late-night highlight shows Monday.
But this is obviously not a team to be taken lightly. The Bulldogs are capable of beating anybody they play on any given night, and with UNC coming off one of its more complete performances in recent memory, the Tar Heels have to be particularly careful not to fall victim to a letdown in this one.
Butler is more like Duke than just about anybody else the Tar Heels will play. Butler prides itself on defense, outside shooting, and breaking down opposing teams' ability to run and get out in transition (sound familiar?).
They're well-known for deliberate, half-court battles that are typically lower-scoring and defensive in nature (sound familiar?).
Bottom line, UNC needs to come out with similar intensity that they did against Mississippi State, and not allow any residual effects of Clarke's Monday buzzer-beater to give the Bulldogs momentum in this game. The crowd at the Lahaina Civic Center should be favorable to the Tar Heels, for what it's worth.
HOT SHOOTING KEYS TAR HEELS
UNC continued their lights-out shooting from beyond the arc against MSU Monday, a vision that we thought we would see in the beginning of the year.
The outstanding guard play from Monday night against Miss. St. seemed to come from multiple players, as McDonald led the way and Hairston, Reggie Bullock, James Michael McAdoo and Dexter Strickland were all able to get in double figures.
McAdoo chipped in 10 points in the game, but this was the first game that he wasn't required to carry the load of the team. As expected though, Miss. St. came into the game short-handed and the guards were able to exploit their weakness.
In all the Tar Heels buried a whopping 15 three-pointers over the course of the Mississippi State game, a statistic that will make UNC nearly impossible to beat if they're also playing good defense.
"I think when we're consistent getting the basketball inside and getting good balance and inside scoring and guys shooting good 3-point shots, I think that's when we're our best team," coach Roy Williams said.
"If we can do a little better job of running the floor and getting some easy baskets in open court, think we'll be even better."
Coming into the game Tuesday night against Butler, guard play will be very important for UNC, especially on the defensive side. With the streaky shooters that the Bulldogs have on their team, it will very important for the Heels to get out on them with their hands in Butler's face.
If the shots aren't falling for Butler, this could lead to transition points and easy baskets for the Heels.
Butler will be sound defensively, as Coach Stevens has always been a defensive minded coach. The Heels will have to take care of the ball, but will get opportunities down in the paint, as they have an advantage height wise.
The freshmen will all look to bounce back in this game, as Joel James, Brice Johnson, Marcus Paige, and J.P. Tokoto all shot poorly against Mississippi State (combined they were 5 of 22 from the field Monday night).
"We can't throw that basketball around," Williams said.
"We're going to face somebody (Tuesday), for example, that's going to have the same number of players that we do and be very effective defensively. We can't hurt ourselves."
UNC will play either Chaminade or Illinois on Wednesday. Should they knock off the Bulldogs on Tuesday, they'll face either the Illini or Silverswords in the championship game Wednesday night at 10:00 pm eastern time from Lahaina.