Butler-North Carolina Preview
North Carolina often faltered when Marcus Paige wasn't at his best in 2013-14, but the Tar Heels are showing much better balance this season.
No. 5 North Carolina looks to continue its well-rounded attack Wednesday against Butler in a Battle 4 Atlantis first-round matchup in the Bahamas.
Paige finished fourth in the ACC last season with 17.5 points per game and shot 46.7 percent in North Carolina's 24 victories, including a 43.8 mark from 3-point range. He shot 38.9 percent and 29.9 percent from deep in 10 losses and the Tar Heels were 2-3 when he failed to reach double figures in scoring.
Paige scored 19-plus six times in the team's final 10 games while James Michael McAdoo - the team's second-leading scorer on the season with 14.2 points - was limited to 11.6 points per game on 38.7 percent shooting.
A preseason All-American, Paige is North Carolina's fourth-leading scorer with 12.0 points per game on 37.9 percent shooting thus far - but the Tar Heels are still 3-0 with an average scoring margin of plus-26.0.
Five other players scored at least nine in addition to Paige's 13 in Saturday's 90-72 win over Davidson in Charlotte. Sophomore Kennedy Meeks had 19 points and 12 rebounds after recording 21 points and 12 rebounds in a Nov. 16 win over Robert Morris. Meeks, who averaged 7.6 points and 6.1 rebounds with two double-doubles as a freshman, is 15 for 20 over the last two games.
North Carolina's balanced scoring has been complemented by a stout defense, holding opponents to 63.7 points per game with none shooting better than 36.1 percent.
"This is what we like to see," Paige said. "If we get that type of balance and our defense is as hungry and alert and aggressive as it was today I would expect to have a bunch of guys in double figures on any given night."
Paige is still carrying the load from 3-point range, however, going 7 for 14 from deep while the rest of the team is 5 for 30.
Butler (3-0), which has split its last six games against top-5 foes, is 22 of 45 from beyond the arc. The Bulldogs are shooting 56.0 percent from the floor and won 80-39 against Loyola (MD) on Saturday for their second victory by 41-plus points.
They led by as many as 47 points despite trailing 8-6 early.
"I was really proud of our guys' maturity," coach Chris Holtmann told the school's official website. "We didn't start the best, but for the bulk of the game we had really good attention to detail."
Freshman reserve Kelan Martin was 3 of 5 from 3-point range and scored 23 points in 18 minutes - the highest scoring total by a Butler freshman since Gordon Hayward had 27 against Davidson on Feb. 21, 2009.
North Carolina has won eight of its last 10 neutral-site regular-season games but Butler won 82-71 against the then-ninth ranked Tar Heels in a Maui Invitational semifinal on Nov. 20, 2012, to even the all-time series at two wins apiece. Kellen Dunham, who leads Butler with 19.0 points per game, scored 17 while Paige scored 13. North Carolina fell behind by as much as 29 and its 18 first-half points were its fewest in nearly 17 years.
The winner will face either No. 22 UCLA or Oklahoma in a semifinal Thursday.