#1 North Carolina vs. #4 Butler
Storyline: What is the status of Joel Berry’s ankle?
The Tar Heels are on their revenge tour after the heart breaking loss in the National Championship game last season. Luckily, the Tar Heels do not have to worry about Kris Jenkins but they do have to worry about the Butler team that handed Nova two losses this year.
If Roy Williams is worried about his team not bringing their A-game for this game all he needs to do is put on the Butler vs. Villanova game tapes. Butler does not have any superstar or big name player but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts for the Bulldogs. They play together and are fundamentally sound.
The big storyline in this game is the status of Joel Berry’s ankle. Last year the Tar Heels had Berry and Marcus Paige to split the ball handling responsibilities. Paige is now graduated and the other guards on this year’s team have failed to step up to give Berry a helping hand. That makes Berry’s ankle so important. Berry played through the injury in the second round, but he was clearing favoring it and was not at the top of his game on either side of the ball. Roy Williams needs to get his point guard healthy if they want to make it to the Final Four.
Butler is a team that does everything very well. Nothing really stands out as a strength when looking at the stats. They are in the top 50 in most KenPom categories. North Carolina does one thing better than any team in the country and that is grab offensive rebounds. Kennedy Meeks, Tony Bradley, and Isaiah Hicks are monsters on the offensive glass. Chris Holtmann and his staff must find a way to have their front court of mostly 6’7″ forwards keep the Tar Heels off the glass. Getting offensive rebounds kills an opposing team because they will have to defend for more time, it puts the offense in a position for easy put backs, and it also can open up the outside to get easy catch and shoot threes for Berry and Justin Jackson. Butler’s biggest player is 6’10” Nate Fowler and although he only plays 30% of minutes, he will need to step up big time in this game.
Prediction: UNC 81, Butler 74