By Ken Cross
North Carolina point guard Joel Berry says his ankle is close to 100 percent, Justin Jackson continues to answer the same questions about the ascension of his game, and Tar Heels coach Roy Williams is just glad to be in Memphis. The focus of all three, though, is on the Butler Bulldogs, who Williams hasn’t beaten in two tries.
Butler could be a foil for the North Carolina offense as the Bulldogs play similar to Virginia in that they lock games down and try to play in the half-court, emphasizing defense and rebounding. Carolina split with Virginia in the regular season. The worry for Williams is the Feb. 27 game where the Tar Heels lost 53-43 as Virginia controlled the tempo, wire to wire.
“They just play hard,” said Berry, “That’s the biggest thing. They do the little things like 50-50 balls, being there to take charges, just play solid defense, and they don’t try to do anything outside of what they can’t do, and they’re just sound and disciplined.”
The Bulldogs are 7-3 over their last ten games and received an NCAA bid despite losing to Xavier in the opening round of the Big East Tournament. That may have given the Bulldogs some time to refocus. Now, they haven’t trailed in beating Winthrop and Middle Tennessee in the opening two games of the NCAA Tournament.
“I remember the scouting report; they told us early, they was like, ‘don’t think you’re not going to be guarded,'” said swingman Theo Pinson, who has been injured over much of the season, but is at his healthiest now, “Every time you catch the ball, they’re going to be there. It’s just how they are. Everything is going to be tough.”
As Butler is known for it’s defense, the Bulldogs are one of the most efficient offensive teams in the nation as they shoot 47.9 percent from the floor, 31st in the NCAA. Andrew Chrabascz, Tyler Wideman, and Kelan Martin figure prominently in that efficiency as Wideman tops out at 61.7 percent from the floor. Freshman point guard Kamar Baldwin may be an X-factor as he was third in the Big East in steals with 57 and shot 48.9 percent from the floor this season.
“Their big guys do some things out on the floor that take away some of the advantages that we have when they’re on offense, and we’re having to guard them out there,” said Williams, “I am hopeful that at the same time maybe some of the advantages we have will be when they’re trying to guard us inside.”